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They thought outside box

Discipline of the Bruins a huge factor in sweep

By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / April 25, 2009
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WILMINGTON - After a series so statistically one-sided in Boston's favor, the biggest key for the opening-round sweep of Montreal might be something the Bruins didn't do, instead of all the things they did.

Holding a 2-to-1 edge in power-play opportunities, the Bruins limited the time they spent in the penalty box, refusing to take the bait from a Canadiens team intent on making sure the rough-housing carried over from the teams' final regular-season meeting, when they combined for 76 penalty minutes. In four playoff games, the Bruins abstained, and easily advanced.

"It's not easy. If somebody punches you in the face, you want to do something about it," said Bruins defenseman Steve Montador. "It's understanding what's the right thing. If it's staying out of the penalty box, then you've got to do that. We knew discipline was going to be a key for our club."

Discipline. It can become an overused word in hockey, especially come playoff time. But to a man, the Bruins pointed to it as one of the focal points to the emotional series with the archrival Canadiens.

"I don't think any team's ever won by taking a lot of stupid penalties and playing shorthanded for most of the game," said Milan Lucic. "Every time you take a penalty in the playoffs it's always the longest two minutes you've ever spent in the box. By taking penalties this time of year you're hurting your team more than anything. That's how we look at it."

The numbers spell that out. The Bruins gave Montreal only eight power-play chances, and killed all eight penalties. And when given a man advantage by the Canadiens, the Bruins pounced, scoring four power-play goals in 16 tries, with the 25 percent conversion rate second among playoff teams and trailing only Detroit, which also had a first-round sweep. Boston had nearly as many power-play goals (four) as Montreal's series total (six). And in a carryover from the regular season, the Bruins dominated the Canadiens at even strength.

"We dissected the stats this year against Montreal, and when it came to special teams we were pretty close to being even," said coach Claude Julien. "Where we excelled was when we stayed out of the box, five on five, our goals for and against, I think it was a 3-to-1 margin there. So it was important for us to stay out of the box and use that part of our game to our advantage."

Limiting penalties also enabled the Bruins to get off to quick starts, which can be paramount to playoff success. Boston had seven first-period goals against Montreal, and took only three penalties. Consequently, the Bruins never trailed after one period in any of the games - they held the lead three times, and Game 3 was tied, 1-1.

It's an approach the Bruins want to maintain, despite not knowing which opponent awaits.

"Depending on who you play against, there's a whole different crew with a different attitude," said Montador. "What worked in the first round might not work in the second round, but a good team will be able to make those adjustments as soon as possible."

Said Julien, "The one key is always discipline. The further you go in the playoffs, the better the teams are, so that means you've got to stay out of the box because their power play can certainly do some damage.

"That's part of our game plan, and that's not going to change moving forward."

The Bruins recalled goaltender Adam Courchaine from Providence for yesterday's practice, resting Tim Thomas. Courchaine has made one appearance with Providence this season; he also played with the Ottawa 67's of the Ontario Hockey League. "It's a dream come true. To get a call saying, 'Go practice with the Boston Bruins,' is something you wake up every day hoping you hear on the phone," said Courchaine, who is eligible for one more season of junior hockey in 2009-10. "That was amazing. I never dreamed I'd be able to do that, especially at 20 years old." . . . Julien expects injured defenseman Andrew Ference to be healthy enough to start the next series. Ference hasn't played since April 4 because of a lower-body injury. "Right now, the way things are looking, there's no reason to not think he's going to start the next series," Julien said. "From our chats with our trainers, by the beginning of the week he'll be with our team." . . . Marc Savard, Dennis Wideman, and Patrice Bergeron also missed practice, given what Julien termed a "minimal maintenance day." Julien said, "The luxury that we have, they could have easily practiced. We took a very overly cautious approach."

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com

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