Bruins aim for a stronger start
TAMPA — In Game 5 Monday night, Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk had barely started to perspire when he broke out in a scared-to-death sweat.
In the first minute, Tampa Bay’s Brett Clark had tossed David Krejci to the ice, forcing the Boston center to cough up the puck. Andrew Ference, Boychuk’s defense partner, was caught up ice and had lost an edge. So there Boychuk was, staring down Steven Stamkos and Simon Gagne as the Tampa Bay forwards hurtled his way.
As he has been coached to do, Boychuk took away Stamkos’s cross-ice pass, leaving goalie Tim Thomas to take care of the shot. But Stamkos hesitated slightly, which threw off Boychuk’s timing. That light tap on the brakes opened up a passing lane to Gagne. In turn, Gagne’s shot ricocheted off Boychuk and skimmed past Thomas at 1:09 of the first period.
“It wasn’t a great feeling, obviously,’’ Boychuk said. “It’s early in the game again. They get a two-on-one and they put the puck in the back of the net.
“It’s not a good feeling. As soon as you get off the ice, you’ve got to forget about it, bring your game, and try to get the next goal.’’
Just like that, the Bruins were down, 1-0. It was the fifth time in the playoffs they had allowed a goal in the opening three minutes.
“It’s certainly not the way you want to start a game,’’ said defenseman Adam McQuaid. “It was really early in the game. There was still a lot of game to play. You have no choice but to put it behind you and push forward. For the most part, I think we did a pretty good job of that.’’
Tonight, as the Bruins attempt to close out the Lightning and advance to the Stanley Cup finals, they understand they can ill afford another sputtering start. Not only were they down by a goal after 20 minutes in Game 5. But with the Bruins wearing concrete clogs instead of skates and the Lightning holding a 14-4 shot advantage, the home team was very lucky to be trailing by only a 1-0 score.
“Even after the win, we knew we were a team capable of playing better,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “When you win a hockey game and you know you can play better, I think that’s a positive.’’
There was little to explain why the Bruins had turned in another poor start, even though they pulled out a 3-1 win. The best Julien could come up with was that the pressure of the situation — tied in the series at 2-2 — weighed down his players’ legs, chipped away at their hearts, and fogged their decision-making.
“We’ve been accustomed to having some decent starts,’’ Julien said. “I think the last game wasn’t one of those. We were still able to hang on and eventually give ourselves the lead.
“We know we can play better than we did. We got the win, but we’re a team that plays better than we showed. We’re going to need that kind of effort if we plan on winning the hockey game.
“They’re going to play with desperation. They’re a good team.’’
In the second and third periods of Game 5, the Bruins found another gear. They submitted their best stuff when it counted the most.
In the second period, Krejci won an offensive-zone faceoff, which triggered a set piece that ended with Nathan Horton winging a one-timer past Lightning goalie Mike Smith.
Later, Zdeno Chara soft-chipped the puck to himself off the wall, leading to some scrambling among the Tampa defensemen. The play ended with Brad Marchand, way out of control to start the night, fighting off a Martin St. Louis backcheck to tap home a lovely Patrice Bergeron dish for the game-winning goal.
“There’s times where you’ve got to settle him down, absolutely,’’ Mark Recchi said of his young linemate. “He plays on that edge and he’s very emotional. There’s definitely times where you’ve got to grab him and say, ‘OK, settle down here. Just focus on playing.’
“He responds. He’s a great kid. He really wants to do well. There’s times you have to tell him. But that’s OK. That’s a good quality. You’d rather have guys that get a little carried away instead of guys that you need to find a way to fire up in that situation.’’
There was no timelier action than Thomas’s stick save on Steve Downie halfway through the third. But the Bruins recognize they can’t bank on Thomas to save their hides again.
St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, quiet in Game 5, should be roaring tonight. Stamkos was the best of the three in Game 4 Saturday, and he’ll look to linemates Gagne and Ryan Malone to be more physical around the net.
Thomas is sure to be under assault. Which is why the Bruins must be better in front of him.
“He’s an important part of our team,’’ Julien said. “It’s nice to be able to rely on him. But you don’t want to go into a game relying on him. You want to do your job.
“There’s going to be some games like [Game 5]. It’s important about finding a way. You fall down, 1-0, in the first two minutes of the game. It’s a team that usually shuts down other teams pretty good.
“We stayed the course. We weren’t our best. But we stayed the course and found a way to get back in the game.’’