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On Hockey

After giveaways, what’s left?

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By Kevin Paul Dupont
April 17, 2011

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Whatever it is the Bruins must do to beat the Canadiens — tip No. 1: putting pucks in the net — they’ve done precious little of it thus far in Round 1 of the playoffs.

Can they beat the Habs? Absolutely. Without question. And it might still happen, provided the team in Black and Gold first figures out how to stop beating itself.

Last night was a case study in shooting thyself in the foot, and no one did that better than Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference, and Dennis Seidenberg, whose big, fat, juicy turnovers handed the Habs their first, second, and third goals. The final score, in case you missed it on the way to the medicine cabinet, was Montreal 3, Boston 1, which meant CH goals 1, 2, and 3 were all delivered off the sticks of the Bruins’ bomb-tossing defensemen.

“You’ve got to make the other team work for their goals,’’ lamented Boston coach Claude Julien, whose patience, though admirable in some ways, simply isn’t helping matters. “That wasn’t the case tonight. We are making mistakes that we can’t keep making.’’

OK, let’s get to the obvious 6-foot-9-inch behemoth who wasn’t in the center of the room. The Bruins were without captain/franchise defenseman Zdeno Chara, who needed IV fluids for dehydration symptoms at Mass. General Hospital Friday night and was unable to play. Big Z came out for the warm-up, clearly struggled to get through it, and had to be scratched. The keep-it-confidential Bruins aren’t making it public, but Chara is battling a virus, which led to his dehydration, which led to him having to go back to bed, leaving his teammates too often to look and play like an unmade bed.

“He deserves so much credit for what he did tonight,’’ lauded Julien, noting Chara’s attempt to pull on his No. 33 XXXL sweater. “When he came off the ice [following the warm-up], he was sweaty and dizzy . . . there was no way in the world he could have played.’’

Later, when asked if the costly boo-boos by the blue line crew had to be considered within the context of Chara’s absence, Julien said, “You can’t say we didn’t miss Z . . . it leaves us with a big hole.’’

As it should. Chara won the Norris Trophy as the game’s No. 1 defenseman two years ago. He logs huge minutes every night, usually north of 25. Take the Rocky Mountains out of the Colorado landscape and, sure, things are going to look different. But it doesn’t mean that every tree in the state has to topple over and die. Who knows, with the mountain gone, maybe the trees even look better. Boychuk, Ference, and Seidenberg, instead of standing tall, shrank and morphed into the tic-tac-toe enablers of the Habs offense.

“Our defensemen can handle themselves and be better,’’ said Julien.

Meanwhile, the club’s alleged No. 1 line, with David Krejci centering Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, posted the Full Thornton (0-0—0) last night. That trio is Exhibit A in how Julien’s patience, though often nurturing and stabilizing in the regular season, has become disabling here in the postseason. That same trio turned in the Full Thornton in Game 1, when all the lines went 0-0—0. By the end of 40 minutes last night, the Krejci line remained 0-0—0-out-to-lunch, and Horton didn’t have a single shot on net.

Finally, in the third period, with Montreal’s 2-0 series lead virtually chiseled in granite, Julien yanked Horton off the top line and put Rich Peverley in his right wing spot. Horton was demoted to the third line (another 0-0—0 combination) with Chris Kelly and Michael Ryder.

Julien also left Thomas in net, where he has looked uncomfortable from the first minute of Game 1. Granted, it’s hard to look comfortable when the defense keeps serving turnovers hot out of the oven, but a move to Tuukka Rask for the final 20 minutes might — again, might — have served as a signal that status quo isn’t going to get the job done.

Horton is looking every bit the underperformer he was in his six seasons as a Son of Sunrise, Fla. Lucic looks uncharacteristically out of it, a latter day Landon of the Lost Wilson, as if he is window shopping, like a man trying to find that exact something for a birthday or holiday gift, but never compelled to pull out his wallet. He’s not bringing it. He’s not thinking it.

Horton and Lucic, to be blunt, are paid and played to be difference-makers. Thus far their play has been indifferent to the point of nondescript. They should not accept it. The fans surely don’t. Julien may not have other difference-makers to put in their place, but that doesn’t let him off the hook. He watched it for five-plus periods and only then tweaked it by making the right-wing swap.

The logical, though unconventional, move now would be to yank both Lucic and Horton from the top line and give the likes of Brad Marchand and Shawn Thornton, clearly his two best wingers, a chance to do something. Maybe they’ll deliver. Maybe not. The added purpose of that kind of move would be to get Lucic and Horton out of their funk, test their pride, and find out if they care enough to claw their way back to top-line status.

Just not good enough, across the board. The defensemen don’t do much, and, when they do something, it’s either destructive or disastrous. The forwards impose no will, no touch, no presence around the net. The coach, who relies on structure and patience and clarity of message, hasn’t reacted when it’s clear that structure, patience, and clarity have added up only to early deficits, dispassionate play, and an 0-2 series deficit with three of the next four games (if the season goes that long) scheduled for the Bell Centre. Mon dieu.

After last year’s second-round loss to Philadelphia, a club the Bruins led, three games to none, could there be worse? Incredibly, yes, and we are watching it right now, shift by shift by shift.

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

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