BOSTON — The Bruins were the best third-period team in the NHL this season, and the Montreal Canadiens are quickly finding out why through the first two games of their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series.
Facing a possible 0-2 deficit with the next two games at the Bell Centre in Montreal, the Bruins relied on their exceptional leadership and wealth of experience to mount a thrilling comeback with four unanswered third-period goals, which ended with an empty-net tally by Milan Lucic to secure a 5-3 win at TD Garden Saturday afternoon.
“I mean we were down two goals, so we couldn’t really wait and play on the defensive side,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said after Game 2. “We just had to push for it, and we were more aggressive, and we were playing with a lot more puck possession, and again, the chances we got we capitalized on.”
Boston led the league with a plus-48 third-period goal differential in the regular season (next-best was St. Louis at plus-25). They were plus-4 against the Red Wings during Round 1 and are plus-5 against the Canadiens (plus-2 in Game 1, plus-3 in Game 2).
As Chara noted, one of the keys to Boston’s third-period surge was its puck possession. The B’s were able to consistently enter the attacking zone cleanly, then maintained possession by winning puck battles along the boards and making quick, accurate passes to open up shooting lanes.
As the chart below shows, the Bruins out shot the Canadiens 8-4 starting with Dougie Hamilton’s goal at 10:56 of the third period, which ignited the comeback. The B’s finished with a 35-28 shots on goal advantage, and as a result, they also had an impressive 58-percent corsi-for percentage (puck possession stat).
No matter how many goals the Bruins need in the final period of play, there is a genuine belief that victory is still within their grasp. Part of this confidence comes from previous playoff experiences, including two trips to the Stanley Cup Final in the last three years.
“Not only last year, but last game we were down by a couple goals, and we came back,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. “We just knew that we had to focus on the first one, and anything could happen after that. And especially with the crowd on our side, they really got into it after that first one. It just seemed like we got that life, and we knew we were going to come back and win the game.”
According to Extra Skater, the Canadiens had a 96.1 percent win expectancy midway through the final period. Despite the odds, the Bruins found a way to even the series with the heart of a champion.
“It shows our character,” Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said of his team’s ability to erase leads.
“I think we make it unnecessarily hard for ourselves sometimes, but it’s a great, gutsy win today. Really proud of the guys.
“We know we were capable of (coming back),” Rask added. “And then we never quit. We keep plugging away, keep playing our style, and sometimes it pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t. The biggest thing is that we know we can do it and we never stop.”
Game 3 is Tuesday night in Montreal.