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They didn’t go bump on this night

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By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / April 15, 2011

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On the first night of the playoffs, the Bruins ended up second best. Why? Because the Canadiens scored first, and last, and as it turned out they also scored all the goals there were to score last night at the Garden.

But it was the first goal, not even three minutes into the opening period, that ended up defining the evening for the Bruins and the sellout crowd of 17,565. When Tomas Kaberle put a little too much on a reverse attempt, his faux pas led to Brian Gionta’s goal, and it also led to the Bruins never establishing the kind of physical game they’ll need to make it to Round 2.

“I gave it too hard,’’ said Kaberle, the veteran defenseman brought in late in the season to help activate the Bruins’ offense, although last night he activated the opposition’s offense. “I didn’t plan for it to go off the boards that hard . . . it wasn’t the plan and it ended up on [Scott] Gomez’s stick.’’

Now, one bad play with 57-plus minutes left on the clock should not be any team’s fatal flaw. The Bruins now stand 0-1 in the postseason for more reasons than the blind backhander that Kaberle, playing in his first playoff game since 2004, sent skittering up Boston’s right boards.

Equally frustrating for the Bruins was their inability to do much with the puck when in the offensive end, where they actually spent a good portion of the night. They just didn’t spend that good portion very well. They hammered away on Habs goaltender Carey Price, who snuffed out 31 shots, but they rarely, if ever, made Price’s night difficult. Time and time again the Bruins put the rubber to Price’s midsection, and they did so without screening him, crowding him, or even making him blink.

They huffed. They puffed. They blew nothing down.

“Frustrating to have so much time in their end,’’ noted top-line center David Krejci, whose wingers, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, combined for but one shot on net over the first two periods, “and have the puck deep, and not get goals.’’

Lucic, who coughed up the puck that led to Gionta’s jawbreaker with 3:18 remaining, landed only one shot all night. Horton, in his postseason debut, landed three shots. Overall, though, the first line, second line, third, and fourth all graded as “No Shows’’ on the scoresheet. Ditto for the 0-for-3 power play, which twice had a smattering of Black-and-Gold faithful booing or yelling, “C’mon!’’

In the book “Stanley Cup for Dummies,’’ Chapter One is entitled, “Play to Your Assets, Nitwit!’’

For the 2011 Bruins, like many Bruins teams of yore, that means emphasizing the obvious, their age-old reliance on snarl ahead of style, skill, and speed. Back in the decades when most everyone else in the Original Six was forced to pay homage to Les Habs, the Bruins often had little else to offer but a roundhouse right or a good licking along the wall. Winning usually wasn’t their thing (see: a good chunk of the ’50s and the pre-Orr ’60s).

Well, the Habs today are not the Habs of yesteryear. The Flying Frenchmen never shrunk into the kind of defensive shell this year’s Habs exhibited after posting that 1-0 lead. But if the Bruins are to win this series, it would do them well to play a heavy, physical game.

They showed earlier this season, especially in the sweet mayhem of an 8-6 win over the Habs Feb. 9, that they can intimidate Les Glorieux. They just can’t allow them to score first, especially so early in the game. The Bruins are bigger, stronger, beefier, and while that alone guarantees nothing, it is an obvious edge, one they’ll have to use if they hope to be spared yet another summer of blistering talk-radio critiques.

“I think it’s important for us to have that hunger,’’ said Gregory Campbell, the Bruins’ fourth-line center and among their most active agitators. “It’s no secret, if we don’t play that way, if we are not moving our feet and getting to loose pucks, then were not as effective.’’

The Bruins came out looking like they understood that underlying truth. Horton put a good smack on speedy defenseman P.K. Subban in the first minute, the first of 13 Boston hits (to Montreal’s 10) in the opening 20 minutes. Over the final 40 minutes, the Bruins tallied only 16 more hits and finished with a one-hit margin for the night.

It was the costly error by Kaberle that got everything going the wrong way. Only 2:44 into the playoffs and Bruins were chasing the lead. It had the Bruins pressing to score right from the start, and amid the chase they weren’t able to get the Habs to back down, cower. Instead, they packed in tightly around Price, protected the lead, preserved the win.

“They like to get the early lead,’’ noted Bruins coach Claude Julien. “And once they get it, they like to sit back, make you frustrated.’’

One game down and worry officially has taken residence on Causeway Street. The second try is tomorrow night, and the home team needs to show a whole lot more second effort.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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