WILMINGTON - Last Thursday, when the Bruins had little to be happy about after a 4-1 series-opening loss against the Canadiens, some players took solace in the six occasions they snuffed the rolling Montreal power play, including a two-minute five-on-three situation.
In hindsight, the Game 1 performance on the penalty kill might have given the Bruins the juice they needed.
The Bruins, who punched their way back into the series with a 2-1 overtime win Sunday at TD Banknorth Garden, have killed all but one of Montreal's 18 power-play opportunities. Montreal's only man-advantage goal came in overtime Saturday at the Bell Centre, when a shot by winger Alex Kovalev skimmed off the stick of Zdeno Chara and hopped over the shoulder of Tim Thomas, giving the Canadiens a 3-2 victory.
"I just think we're doing a better job of executing it," said coach Claude Julien. "But at the same time, when you play a series of seven games, you obviously adjust to a team with more specifics than playing in the regular season, when you're playing a different team every night or two nights. We've had an opportunity to maybe adjust a little better."
During the regular season, the Canadiens rattled holes in the Boston penalty kill with authority. The Canadiens converted 10 of their 34 opportunities, a 29.4 percent clip that affirmed their status as the best power-play team in the NHL (24.2 percent, 90 man-advantage goals). Conversely, the Bruins killed only 78.6 percent of opposing power plays, the third-worst mark in the league. On the road, the Bruins were dead last, with a miserable 74.7 percent kill rate.
The Canadiens presented a laundry list of problems. The Bruins, eager to establish a hard-hitting presence, wound up in the penalty box. The speed and skill of the Canadiens forced the Bruins to run around and incur the standard penalties - holding, hooking, interference - as they tried to catch up.
Then when the Canadiens went into its formation (Kovalev on the right side boards, defensemen Andrei Markov and Mark Streit at the points, forwards Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn darting down low on the No. 1 power-play unit), they snapped the puck around patiently, waiting for a seam to open in Boston's penalty-killing box.
But the Bruins have hosed down the flammable Montreal power play - 0 for 6 in Game 1, 1 for 8 in Game 2, 0 for 4 in Game 3 for a meager 5.6 percent success rate.
"We'll make some adjustments," said Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau. "[Associate coach] Doug Jarvis is looking at the last three games against them, trying to find something we can take advantage of."
The Montreal power play flows through Kovalev, who likes to stickhandle up and down the right-side wall, waiting for seams to open.
Kovalev has several options: First, he can draw the box to him, then dish up top to Streit. Second, he can drift down low and feed Plekanec at the goal line, then cut to the middle for a return pass. Third, he can spot Markov going back-door and fire a cross-ice pass. Fourth, he can draw the defenders to the boards, then dump the puck to Kostitsyn in front. Fifth, he can attack the box directly by coming off the boards with the puck into the middle of the ice, where he can shoot or wait for the defense to collapse on him.
But Kovalev, who recorded 47 of his 84 regular-season points on the power play, has been too stationary at times. His teammates, in turn, have stood around and waited for Kovalev to pull off the impossible, allowing the Bruins to negate their primary weapon.
"They're a skilled team," said Jeremy Reich. "If you give them a space, they're going to find it. We've got to limit the plays we give them and make sure we're bearing down on every chance to get it out."
When Kovalev has the puck, the penalty killers' first job is to keep the winger on the perimeter against the boards. Julien has emphasized the middle of the ice, in both even-strength and power-play situations, and the Bruins have had their sticks in any passing lanes that might open up.
But if one of the penalty-killing forwards steers Kovalev up or down the wall, the other forward must be ready to seal off the seam, marking either Kostitsyn in the slot or Markov at the far post.
"The middle guy is so important," said Glen Metropolit, who usually kills penalties with P.J. Axelsson. "You've got to trust him for that seam pass.
"I think that's what it comes down to - trust in each guy. Everyone's got to do their job. Earlier in the year, we weren't doing so well. But I think guys are trying to take care of their own responsibilities."
The Bruins ran into discipline problems late in Game 2. Reich was called for holding at 12:50 of the third period. Metropolit was nabbed for tripping. Shawn Thornton clipped forward Tom Kostopoulos in the face, drawing a four-minute high-sticking double minor. Then in overtime, Reich tripped Markov, setting up Kovalev's game-winner.
They were far more trustworthy Sunday, when they gave the Canadiens only four power plays. On the occasions they had men in the penalty box, the Bruins blocked shots, poked sticks in lanes, hounded Kovalev, and relied on Thomas - it's often said that the goalie is the biggest component of a penalty kill - to keep the Canadiens from converting.
"It's a bunch of things," Andrew Ference said. "It's tough to really point to one thing.
"In the playoffs, there's more attention to detail and more intensity. You know how quickly a goal on the power play can change an entire game. You treat it almost like it's the last minute of the game.
"It's that kind of intensity. That kind of importance is placed on it."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.