It’s not that the Bruins are deliberately living dangerously, though there certainly is enough evidence to build a case that they enhance their own degree of difficulty.
The larger problem is that through three games of this already exhausting series with the Canadiens, the Bruins are making a habit of living lethargically for the first two periods of each game.
And if they keep this up, if they keep playing with the early inertness that often plagued their 4-2 loss in Game 3 Tuesday night, that quest for their second Stanley Cup in four seasons won’t be living much longer.
The setting for the third matchup in the 34th postseason series between the Canadiens and Bruins changed Tuesday night, but the early pages of the script did not.
The Canadiens, just as they had done during the two games in Boston, jumped to a multi-goal lead. The Bruins spotted the Canadiens three goals this time, and there’s that degree of difficulty for you.
At the forefront once again was P.K. Subban, who has been to the 2013-14 Bruins what Andrew Toney was to the ’80s Celtics — a nemesis who appears to have never considered that he might be stopped.
Bruins fans have been trained to wince habitually when Subban has the puck on his stick and an opportunity in front of him. And while he wears the villain’s sweater and plays the part in dastardly and dirty ways, he also is on the receiving end of this high compliment: “Damn, I wish he played here.”
Subban entered Game 3 with four points in this series — a pair of power-play goals in Game 1, including the winner in double overtime, and a pair of assists in Boston’s 5-3 victory in Game 2.
He ended Game 3 with six. Subban had the secondary assist on the Canadiens’ first goal, when Thomas Vanek found Tomas Plakanec at the far post against meandering Bruins defense.
Two minutes later, Subban was up to those familiar, exasperating antics, the cheap nonsense that should be demeaning to a talent of his magnitude but for some reason is irresistible to him. Subban was sent to the box for roughing after backing toward Reilly Smith and sending him sprawling with a shoulder to his upper-body, a hit that also wiped out Subban’s teammate, Thomas Vanek.
Canadiens fans, who are accustomed to being awarded penalties at the Bell Centre, booed in their smug how-dare-you, comment osez-vous!? style. Little did they know that they would soon be rewarded on a penalty that was called of their own.
In a serendipitous bit of timing that just goes to show that villainy can be rewarded, Subban, having served his time, sprung from the box … and suddenly, with one expert pass from Lars Eller, broke in alone on Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask.
With a deft move that left Bruins fans muttering, “Defensemen aren’t supposed to [expletive] [expletive] [expletive] be able to do that,” Subban scored his third goal of the series to put Montreal up 2-0. File under: Weaseldom Rewarded.
The Canadiens would add that third goal, Dale Weise’s second-period tally on another breakaway, before something finally jostled the Bruins awake. Patrice Bergeron scored on a ridiculous deflection with 2:12 left in the period, and given that the Bruins rallied from two-goal deficits in third period in Game 1 and Game 2, the possibility of another comeback was percolating if not downright expected.
The rally did arrive. But this time, it couldn’t be completed. Canadiens goalie Carey Price entered Game 3 having allowed 13 third period goals in six playoff games this season. That total climbed to 14 when Andrej Meszaros, whose defensive shortcomings leave one wondering whether a Dennis Seidenberg appearance in this series is out of the question, fired a shot on net that Jarome Iginla subtly redirected with 2:16 remaining.
But there would be no 15th. Eller clinched it with an empty-netter with three seconds left, and the Bruins were left staring at a 2-1 deficit in this series.
The comebacks are wildly entertaining, and this team’s resilience is unquestioned. But when the puck drops for Game 4 Thursday night, you hope the lesson will have been learned, the reminder absorbed:
Your not going to catch up to an opponent like the Canadiens as often as dangerous living will catch up with you.
Hey, it’s fun to play with a lead once in a while, too.