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Boxed in by power play

They’re unable to take advantage

The Bruins’ struggles on the power play in the playoffs haven’t been for lack of practice. The Bruins’ struggles on the power play in the playoffs haven’t been for lack of practice. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Kevin Paul Dupont
May 2, 2011

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PHILADELPHIA — The Bruins don’t lack bodies for their power play. They lack a way, a method, a clue. Eight games into their postseason run, they have mastered the art of doing less with more, unable to score and, most recently, barely able to maintain possession of the puck in what is commonly referred to as the attack zone.

The problem is, there is no attack in the Boston power play.

“Five-on-five, we make the right choices, but . . . ’’ Bruins coach Claude Julien noted after yesterday’s brief workout at the Wells Fargo Center, his club prepping to take on the Flyers in Game 2 tonight. But when skating five-on-four, the Bruins are tense, often shapeless, and always ineffective.

Four of the five Boston chances with the PP in Game 1, what turned into a 7-3 laugher that gave them the upper hand in the best-of-seven series, were prime cases in point, and in futility.

The first of those advantages came at 14:06 of the first period when Zac Rinaldo was called for goaltender interference. Over the course of the next two minutes, Julien rolled out his two combinations. The first had Patrice Bergeron flanked by Rich Peverley and Mark Recchi, backed by Dennis Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara. The next had the No. 1 line, Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton, joined by point men Tomas Kaberle and Johnny Boychuk.

The Flyers cleared the puck out of their zone three times in the opening 45 seconds of the power play. They did it again at the 1:04 of the PP and again at 1:41. Five clears.

“Once the puck bounces, they pounce on you,’’ said Seidenberg, noting how quickly and assuredly the Flyers’ penalty-killers get to loose pucks. “They make it difficult.’’

Boston’s second advantage came at 5:11 of the second period when ex-Boston prospect Kris Versteeg hacked Michael Ryder on the back of his right leg — particularly dunderheaded, considering the Flyers were in Boston’s defensive zone. The Flyers cleared at the 0:22 mark. A bad Boston pass amounted to another clear at 0:45. The Flyers then dumped the puck out at the 0:57, 1:14, and 1:50 marks. Another five clears.

Only 2:31 later, Danny Briere tripped Brad Marchand, setting up a third Boston power play, and the puck left the Flyers’ zone at 0:04, 0:19, 0:38, 0:50, 1:04, and 1:40. Six clears. The Bruins treated the offensive end as if they were at Crane Beach, dipping a toe in the Atlantic Ocean on New Year’s Day. Get . . . me . . . outta . . . HERE!!!!

With Claude Giroux sent off for a slash at 18:12 of the second, the remaining 1:48 of the period saw the Flyers twice nearly post shorthanded goals, but only after again chasing Boston out of its zone three times in the opening 55 seconds of the kill. Versteeg just missed a doorstep flip attempt on Tim Thomas at 19:25, an attempt that, if successful, would have had the Boston lead scaled back to 5-3 at the second intermission.

“Uh . . . no results,’’ said Julien. “But I thought a few things were better.’’

Not really. All five power plays found the Bruins tense and usually racing back to the neutral zone, defensive zone, even Twilight Zone, to retrieve pucks. No possession, no quality chances, virtually no shots on net. It was beyond dysfunctional.

The Maple Leafs set the standard for postseason futility on the power play, skunked in 10 straight games in 1942. The Bruins tonight could close to within a game of tying that sobering standard. Toronto slipped by the Rangers in Round 1 that spring, going 0 for 6 games on the PP, then were blanked on the PP by the Red Wings in the first four games of the Stanley Cup finals. Somehow they survived it all, including falling to 0-3 in the series with the Wings, and went on to clinch the Cup in Game 7.

Maybe that can be some kind of inspiration for the 2011 do-less-with-more Bruins, but it sure is a risky way to go about business. The reason the Bruins went out and acquired Kaberle before the trade deadline was the realization that they were working with a low-wattage power play. It then grew dimmer, by some 50 percent, for the remainder of the 82-game schedule. Since the start of the second season, even darker, backside of the moon dark, 0-for-26-and-without-a-flashlight dark.

By the end of the first-round series with Montreal, the Canadiens clearly sensed Boston power plays as their advantage, a perverse twist, but the Habs’ PKers were bold and hunting pucks every second the Bruins had the alleged manpower advantage. The Flyers are expected to go with a physical, aggressive approach tonight, and that could mean even more trouble for the Bruins’ sputtering PP. Mike Richards and Giroux each connected for three shorthanded goals this season. The 5-for-5 PK in Game 1 no doubt gave them more confidence and hop.

Perhaps the remedy is to put Chara, all 7-feet-on-skates of him, in front of the Flyers’ net for the PP. The Flyers did that with the towering Chris Pronger in Game 1 and the big guy was right there, front and center, when Richards knocked one home for a power-play goal. Pronger and Chara traded a number of hits and stick chops during the advantage. One can only wonder how that turf war would play out if Chara were positioned as the attacker and not the defender in a rematch.

Whatever the remedy, if there is one, it’s time for the Bruins to roll it out.

A little net presence from Lucic, now 18 games without a goal of any kind, also would be beneficial. Maybe a touch of Marchand feistiness up there would help. Gregory Campbell isn’t known for his touch, but he has the requisite gumption for getting to the goal and sticking around a while.

Eight games, no way out, and nowhere to go but up.

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

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