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On Hockey

Net gains from old strategy

By Kevin Paul Dupont
April 17, 2012
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WASHINGTON - As bank robbers eyeball banks to make their withdrawals - because that’s where the money is - goal scorers are usually found around the net. That has been true since water first turned to ice, but it’s even more essential in today’s NHL because long shots on net very rarely make it across the goal line.

As basic as getting to the net may sound, it took the Bruins until their third playoff game this season, Monday night at the Verizon Center, to re-embrace that basic and proven concept. And with that bit of strategy restored, Daniel Paille and Brian Rolston both used it to their advantage, each striking for their first goals of this postseason and helping the Bruins to their 4-3 win over the Capitals.

“That’s not an easy team to play against,’’ said Rolston, whose 20th career playoff goal came at 1:02 of the third period and provided the Bruins with their first minutes of lead time in the series. “They do a good job of moving guys from out in front and blocking guys out. It’s an old story . . . there are no pretty goals in the playoffs. Shots don’t get through because guys are blocking shots, so you have to try to be feisty out there.’’

Feistiness, we all know, comes down to will and desire and tenacity, which translates to being willing to take the beating that comes with trying to set up shop in front of the opposing goalie. For the first two games of the series, the Bruins talked about that game, which was the butter to the bread of their Stanley Cup win last year. But it took until Game 3 for them actually to play that game, first to find those nooks and crannies around the cage, then to move to them, and then to stick in there long enough for presence, grit, and patience to turn into something.

Paille’s goal, midway through the second period, had him parked right at the top of the crease as Greg Zanon quickly snapped in a shot from above the left circle. None of that would have happened without Shawn Thornton’s topnotch puck control along the right wall and toward the corner, which led to linemate Greg Campbell feeding the puck up high to Zanon. In other words, group effort, a goal that had four names on it, even if Thornton was the invisible man on the scoresheet.

“Some of that is just getting shots through, and good puck management,’’ said Thornton. “You saw that with both [Paille] and [Rolston] goals . . . just finding guys around the net and creating second chances.’’

It’s those second chances, and sometimes third and fourth ones, that could be what brings the Bruins a second Cup in as many years. Unless something changes dramatically in their attack, or the Capitals revert to their old el-foldo postseason selves, they aren’t going to do much, if any, scoring off the rush in this series. They’re going to have to work hard to keep pucks in the attack zone, fight harder to position forwards in front of the net or zip in and out at precisely the right time - perhaps even harder than trying to hold position with a defenseman’s stick being raked across your back.

What the Bruins know now is that this is a hard-hat, elbows-up, chin-down, move-to-the-net-and-prepare-to-get-nailed series. Paille, parked at the top of the crease, was left with a gimme backhander after goalie Braden Holtby cut down Zanon’s shot. Rolston benefited more from speed and guile, trailing into the slot just a couple of seconds after linemate Benoit Pouliot nearly canned a rebound off a Zdeno Chara attempt. Chris Kelly mashed it back toward the net and Rolston put it away with a quick stick. The Bruins finally had a lead, 3-2, their first in the series after 161 minutes and 2 seconds of regulation play.

“I got a good whack at it,’’ said Rolston, underscoring the importance of maintaining puck possession and being able to create multiple shooting opportunities on the same possession. “It’s a huge thing when you are playing teams that are so good defensively. They tend to load one side of the zone, be strong there, and what you hope to do is make the little plays that will open up the shot.’’

Boston’s postseason is now three games old, and the goal scorers have been Kelly (overtime), Pouliot (lone goal in Game 2 loss), and the Game 3 foursome of Peverley, Paille, Rolston, and Chara. Not a top-six forward in the mix. Still nothing from the likes of Milan Lucic or David Krecji, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron or Tyler Seguin.

“It was improved, we got some shots through,’’ said coach Claude Julien, reflecting on his guys getting the job done from short range. “So we did a better job with that. It’s a little bit of everything when you’re doing that . . . if you send too many guys in there, it gets to be a cluster. We needed to have better outlets [and options], and we did better than in the first two games.’’

The Bruins have a 2-1 series lead. Nothing has been decided. They need two more wins against the Capitals to move to Stage 2, 14 more victories in all to book another parade. Loads of work left to do. But now that they’ve found their way back to the bank, maybe the Bruins can ride off with the silver again.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at GlobeKPD.

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