There are 27 teams in the National Hockey League who would love to trade places with the Bruins today, 28 if you count the Carolina Hurricanes. The B’s are in the Eastern Conference finals, part of the NHL’s final four, and on Thursday night they took a 1-0 lead on the ‘Canes, becoming the first team with nine playoffs wins in search of the magical 16.
And yet in the middle of many of these playoff games, the B’s insist on being that daredevil kid around a campfire who insists he can run his hand through the flame and not get singed.
The second period has not been the B’s friend in these playoffs. While they’ve been very good in the first and third periods (plus-8 goal differential in both), they are minus-1 in the second (10 goals for, 11 against).
If not for Tuukka Rask, the past two games would have looked different. In the Game 6 clincher in Columbus, the B’s were outshot 17-5 in the second period, but Rask somehow kept the Blue Jackets off the board and protected a 1-0 lead. In Game 1 against the Hurricanes, the B’s were outshot 15-10 in the second and were lucky Carolina did not run up a big lead.
“That second period, we were pretty bad,” Rask said after the game. “We were fortunate only to be down by one goal.”
Faced with a long change in the second period, coach Bruce Cassidy said his team needs to do a better job of switching personnel.
“We tend to change as groups of three as forwards, and we should really space it out better. Some of that can be through the course of play when you just get fatigued,” said Cassidy, who also talked about weighing shorter shifts in the seconds. “Puck management as well. If you don’t put it in a good spot, your (defense) can never get off. So they’re playing fatigued. I think our starts have been very good, so I think the other team will generally pick up their game as well. ... And there’s always intangibles from game to game, whether we’re taking penalties, etc.”
Chris Wagner acknowledged there could be a momentary lack of focus in the second.
“That’s part of the whole thing, being lackadaisical,” said Wagner, who got on the playoff scoreboard with a late goal Thursday. “It’s between that and puck management. You don’t want to get stuck out on the ice because that’s a pretty long time. We’ll focus on that and try to get better.”
Cassidy also tipped his cap to the opposition in a way.
“It’s as much to do with their breakout. If you get it out and you’re changing, they’re stretching right back in your own end. I think that’s when your D gets taxed. Sometimes ... that’s the pace of play by the other team. We try to play that way,” Cassidy said. “Execution, too. But generally teams that forecheck well, by the time they get it out, you’ve spent time in there, creating turnovers.
“We feel we’re that way when we’re on our game. We get teams fatigued, they punt, they get fresh legs, but by the time they do that, we’re right back down their throats. So that’s what happens. You have to be able to deal with those surges. Some of that is your goaltender, some of it some guys having the ability to settle it down and make a good play when you are tired. Easier said than done.”
So despite the second-period woes, the B’s took the first game of this series, and it was an important one because now they get Charlie McAvoy back after his one-game suspension. But until they head to Carolina with a 2-0 series lead, they will not have done their job in this portion of the series. They were not able to get out of Boston with a 2-0 lead in either of the first two series against Toronto and Columbus.
And while the B’s deserve credit for taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them, they cannot rely on the Hurricanes contributing so much to their own demise every game. If they want to hold serve here, the B’s best clean up the middle 20 minutes of games.