With the New York Rangers finishing off the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, the Eastern Conference Finals are set to start on Saturday afternoon according to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman – the only question is, who will be facing the Rangers. It’s a question that will be answered tonight at the TD Garden in a record-setting ninth game seven between the Canadiens and Bruins.
Boston got outplayed, outhit (39-34) and lost the faceoff battle narrowly (32-29) in game six, but the carryover is practically nonexistent in the NHL playoffs. If the Bruins don’t pull their head out of their ass, we just may be forced to watch the Red Sox stink it up until September when Darrelle Revis and the Patriots hit the field.
Here’s the problem:
1. Tuukka Rask: The alarming part for me is how Rask plays against this team, especially on the break away where I feel like he can’t stop anything. Often times, as it was in 2010-11 with Tim Thomas, the goalie has to bail the defense out on some mistakes, but Tuukka didn’t do that in game six. Being fair, Tuukka’s current defensemen are a little more inexperienced than what Thomas was working with.
Tuukka’s struggles against the Canadiens are well documented, but focusing on just this series, Tuukka hasn’t played much worse than Thomas did against Montreal in 2011. Thomas’ save percentage was .927 through six games and Tuukka’s is .910 through the first six so give it a rest. In 2011, the final game of the series against Montreal came down to OT in the Garden and I’d expect a similar situation. The Bruins won that game 4-3 and hopefully Tuukka can show why he’s a Vezina Trophy finalist.
2. First line production:
Paging Jarome Iginla, David Krejci and Milan Lucic. Where are they. If there’s one surprising aspect to this game, it’s not the speed of the Canadiens, Carey Price’s play or Tuukka’s struggles, its how the first line has been getting outplayed. Krejci and Iginla are a minus-2 this series and Lucic is even, but Looch has missed the open net twice that I can remember, probably more.
Whether it’s not scoring, or the Canadiens being a bunch of flopping sallies, the Bruins were clearly frustrated at the end of game six and they are fortunate it didn’t turn into more than just fines and penalties for some players. Some say it was them setting a tone for game seven, but I honestly think after that crazy no-goal that Desharnais prevented, the Bruins had about enough of the dozen posts they’ve hit, bouncing pucks and failed opportunities.
“We’re not really thinking about it,” Daniel Paille said. “The scoring chances are there. On any other given day, most of them will post and (go) in. But, unfortunately those are the chances we’ve been in but we’re not going to let that stop us.”
Paille’s right, they are there, but now it’s time to cash in on them and if you don’t cash in on it the first few times, don’t start playing the game with frustration. Keep calm and Bergeron or something like that.
Now for the positives – The Bruins are no stranger to game seven’s as they have played eight since Julien arrived in 2007, including three straight on their way to win the Stanley Cup in 2011. Their record is 4-4. Julien has played in 10 total game seven’s, which is tied for the most of any coach in the NHL with Mike Keenan.
That experience, along with a packed out Boston crowd behind them, should be enough to get the blood and hate flowing early. The pace initially means everything as the first team to score in this series has gone on to win every game. The Bruins are better, but it means nothing unless they can win tonight.
The puck drops at 7pm and with good goalie play, Bruins stars showing up to the party and keeping emotions in check, the Bruins will win and give us another two weeks to enjoy playoff hockey in Boston.