Catch-up hockey is losing hockey, and despite the Boston Bruins’ remarkable ability to earn comeback victories in the Stanley Cup playoffs, constantly playing from behind against a quality opponent often results in an early summer vacation.
Montreal took a two games to one Eastern Conference semifinals lead with a 4-2 victory Tuesday night at Bell Centre, sparked by another dominant first period.
The Canadiens broke the scoreless tie at 10:57 of the opening frame when Tomas Plekanec scored his first goal of the series off a beautiful pass from P.K. Subban at the point. The Habs doubled their lead less than four minutes later when Subban scored on a breakaway just after exiting the penalty box.
The Bruins made it interesting in the third period when Jarome Iginla’s goal cut the deficit to 3-2, but it wasn’t enough. In many ways, Boston is lucky that its poor starts haven’t resulted in a 3-0 deficit.
“In the first 20 (minutes), we got to be better,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara told reporters after Game 3. “We got to be better with our coverage. We lost a few people in our zone and (the Canadiens) had some easy goals.”
Boston has scored six first-period goals through eight playoff games, which is the least among the eight teams in Round 2. The Bruins have been outscored 3-1 in the first period in the second round. This lack of offense in the first 20 minutes is a bit surprising because the Bruins had a plus-27 first-period goal differential during the regular season, and their 71 first-period tallies were the seventh-most in the league.
Boston is 4-0 this postseason when it scores the opening goal, compared to 1-3 when the opponent strikes first.
The Bruins have led for just 11:39 of the 204:17 of ice time in this series, while Montreal has led for over 110 minutes. Having to chase the game for most of regulation is draining both physically and mentally, and it also leads to frustration. That takes a toll over the course of a seven-game series, and Boston cannot afford to be tired against a quicker, more offensively skilled Montreal team that excels on the power play.
Despite the Habs’ inability to hold third-period leads in the first two games at TD Garden, they are one of the better teams at protecting a lead during the final 20 minutes. Montreal had the third-best win percentage (.921) when leading after two periods in the regular season and are 5-1 in those situations during the playoffs.
Poor starts were a major issue for the Bruins in last year’s Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks, and it’s once again a genuine concern against a quality opponent. For the B’s to even the series at two games apiece Thursday night, they must score first to establish their physical style of play and take the raucous Bell Centre crowd out of the game.
There’s no excuse for a lack of energy and focus to start a playoff game, especially against your most hated rival.
“We’re a very resilient team,” Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said. “But you can’t pull yourself out of the hole every night, as much as we want to.”