In his debut, Bitz helps cause
He conquers nerves and assists on a goal
MONTREAL - At 13:16 of last night's second period, Byron Bitz led with his stick and got his blade in Alex Kovalev's skate. Kovalev went down, the Canadiens went on the power play, and Bitz found himself in forbidden territory for a fourth-liner during a 2-2 game: the penalty box.
"It was the right call," said Bitz. "It was a tough break."
It already had been a doozy of a day for the rookie. Because of Milan Lucic's one-game suspension for delivering a head shot to Maxim Lapierre in Game 2, Bitz was making his NHL playoff debut.
Even before a walk to the rink with Shawn Thornton (his linemate limited him to one cup of coffee), Bitz knew last night wouldn't be just another game. When he stepped onto the ice come game time, that feeling was affirmed.
"The hair on the back of your neck stands up," Bitz said. "It's an unbelievable feeling. You watch the playoffs on TV growing up. You sit there and you feel that emotion. But when you're out there, it's the best feeling in the world."
The Bruins killed off Bitz's penalty to keep the score tied, then Michael Ryder scored the winning goal at 17:21 of the period.
"They picked me up with a big kill," Bitz said. "That's what our team is all about. Guys step up for each other."
Earlier in the second, Bitz recorded his first postseason point. Bitz won a puck battle with defenseman Yannick Weber deep in the offensive zone along the boards. He used his 6-foot-5-inch, 215-pound frame to protect the puck and keep Weber from regaining position.
As Bitz was cycling, Thornton drifted back as the third man high, ready to hustle back if the Canadiens won the puck. But when Bitz stepped into the corner, leaving Weber several strides behind, Thornton cut back into a seam. Bitz fed Thornton and the Boston tough guy slung a shot past Montreal goalie Carey Price, giving the Bruins a 2-1 lead.
"Obviously this guy played an extremely good game for us tonight," said coach Claude Julien. "You just have to look as far as the play he made on Thornton's goal and how strong he was along the boards."
"Little bit disappointed in myself," said Lucic. "I think our team's done a really good job about being disciplined this whole series. So I'm a little disappointed that way."
Lucic, one of the organization's most dominant big-game players despite his cub status, was given a match penalty for the Lapierre hit in Game 2. He explained that he was jostling with Mathieu Schneider when he saw Lapierre coming for him. Lucic reacted and got his stick and gloves high, delivering what Campbell deemed a head shot.
"He's got to be more careful with his stick," said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. "We talked about composure. My sense is that had he just hit him with the glove, not with the stick, he probably would have gotten off.
"He was very disappointed in himself. Our coaching staff has been preaching composure. That's something we expect to carry forward throughout the series."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.