THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

First step must be taken

Bruins seek to get advantage early

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / April 18, 2011

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Early yesterday afternoon, the Bruins gathered briefly at TD Garden, only to scurry out shortly thereafter for their flight to Montreal. After the home setbacks to the Canadiens in playoff Games 1 and 2, the Bruins were not eager to spend more time at the Garden.

“We’re in trouble right now,’’ said winger Milan Lucic (0-0—0 in two games). “We need to find a way to rally and get our heads around it. Everyone needs to step up and play the way we know we can.’’

Starting tonight at the Bell Centre, the Bruins know there is a simple solution: Score first.

For the spitball-shooting Bruins, that’s easier said than done.

Through 120 minutes of painful hockey, the Bruins have been guilty of more shortcomings than anybody in the organization expected.

Goaltender Tim Thomas hasn’t been a difference-maker. Thomas got little help from his skittish defensemen in Game 2, but he didn’t bail them out either.

Five glaring errors — Tomas Kaberle’s errant reverse, Lucic’s turnover, Johnny Boychuk’s giveaway, Andrew Ference’s reverse to nobody, Dennis Seidenberg’s here-you-go pass up the middle — led to the five goals the Canadiens have scored so far.

The Bruins were without Zdeno Chara in their 3-1 loss Saturday, and although their captain traveled to Montreal yesterday, coach Claude Julien declined to say whether their most valuable player will be available tonight.

Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton, the supposed go-to forwards, have shot blanks against Carey Price.

“The mistakes we’re making are uncharacteristic mistakes, and they’re capitalizing on them,’’ Lucic said. “I think we just need to calm down, relax, and just play the way we know we can.’’

The Bruins could address most of those issues by potting the first goal tonight. If that happens, Montreal would have to alter its approach.

In the first two games, first-period goals gave the Canadiens the green light to execute coach Jacques Martin’s game plan. Martin is more conservative than John Boehner. He instructs his charges to play a 1-4 formation with brief but throttling bullet points.

Get bodies in front of pucks. Grant the Bruins room to blast away from the points, but allow them little operating space down low. Box out and allow Price to see pucks. When the Bruins press and make mistakes, use speed and skill to trigger rapid counterattacks.

Martin’s plan has been letter-perfect so far, just like it was for two rounds last year. The Canadiens clamped down against Washington, the Eastern Conference’s top club. They packed it in even more against Pittsburgh in Round 2 before losing to Philadelphia in the Eastern finals.

“They made a living out of that last year in the playoffs — sitting back, absorbing the other team’s attack, collapsing, and relying on some good goaltending,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “They’ve done that. Whenever they got that early lead, which they’ve done well, then they push teams to try and get out of their comfort zone and start taking chances. That’s the thing they’ve done well.’’

If the Bruins score first, Martin would have to lessen the Lycra-tight grip on the game. Montreal would have to pluck at least one forward out of its collapsing zone defense to create some offensive presence up the ice. Some of the defensemen — P.K. Subban and James Wisniewski are two of their mobile blue liners — would be activated to take chances instead of staying at home in front of Price.

In short, the Canadiens would have to alter the approach they’ve mastered so far.

“If we’re up by a goal, obviously it’s a totally different game,’’ the Bruins’ Gregory Campbell said. “They’re not going to be sitting back. They’re going to be taking more chances. That’s our approach. I think the first goal is a big one for us.’’

If there is anything encouraging from the two games, it’s that the Canadiens didn’t do much to grab their early leads. In Game 1, Kaberle reversed the puck to Scott Gomez, who found Brian Gionta for an easy tap-in. In Game 2, Wisniewski picked off Boychuk’s errant cross-ice pass, and Mike Cammalleri tucked in a rebound.

Unforgivable goofs led to goals that were easier than first-grade math. In theory, they are blemishes the Bruins swiftly can eliminate.

“The mistakes we made are mistakes we’re not usually making,’’ Julien said. “They are poor mistakes. They are mistakes that can be easily corrected just by being a little sharper in our decision-making. That’s not too much to ask.’’

What’s proving more difficult, however, is the Bruins’ quest for offense. Their lack of game-changing talent up front has been clear. Subban and Hal Gill have eliminated Lucic, Krejci, and Horton. The second line has scored the Bruins’ only goal of the series. The third line has provided flickering offensive push. The fourth line, led by the thump-first Shawn Thornton, has upset the Montreal rhythm at times.

But the Bruins need their best and most richly compensated players to produce. So far, they’ve been too JV and not enough varsity.

“We’re definitely upset,’’ Lucic said. “We’re not happy with the results of the first two games.

“The main thing is we’re fighting the puck. It’s almost like we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. I think that’s the most upsetting part. But we need to put that aside, and we need to put our rally caps on and figure something out quick. Because we’re definitely running out of time.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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