When it comes to Milan Lucic, Monday night was the sort of evening Boston hockey fans have dreamed about since the big forward made his initial playoff mark against the Canadiens two years ago.
With a pitched battle tied at two with roughly three minutes left in the third period, Lucic found a bouncing puck coming high off of Flyers defenseman Lukas Krajicek’s stick. Lucic turned and hit it true, beating Philadelphia goaltender Brian Boucher stick side to give the Bruins a 3-2 win in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and send the series back to Philadelphia with Boston holding a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“It feels great. It was a real big situation here, and it was an opportunity for us to go up 2-0 in the series and to get the game winner for that was a great feeling,” Lucic said.
It is a fitting moment for the Bruins. Marc Savard missed half of the season with an assortment of injuries and the dramatic concussion at the hands of Matt Cooke — and then scored the game-winner in overtime in Game 1 to send the screenwriters tapping away at the script for the made-for-TV movie. Lucic has been frustrating Boston fans all year as he has battled back from a high-ankle sprain, with many pundits asking, “Will he ever really be the player we envisioned?”
The jury is still out on that question, but Lucic’s play has improved to the point where he’s no longer one of the core citizens in the Land of the Forgotten Forwards that various Bruins have visited at times this year. The game-winner is a bit of vindication, at the biggest moment of the season.
“My whole thought process was just to get it on net, turn and shoot, get it on net. And luckily it found a hole,” Lucic said. “I think as a team we applied the pressure. I think that is when we are at our best.
“No matter who you are playing, when you are winning puck battles and puck races [you] give yourself a chance to score and create opportunities. On that goal, we did whatever we could to keep the puck in and win puck battles and it just found a way in.”
Here are the lessons to take into Game 3 in Philadelphia on Wednesday:
HANDLING THE AGGRESSORS
Everybody knew the Flyers were going to come out hot. They admitted to some rust after an eight-day layoff between series in Game 1, and built their comeback in that contest in the second and third periods when they started ramping up the forecheck. It is the way Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette coaches — get the bodies flying, create some turnovers and keep the pressure coming.
The aggression paid off late in the first period. The Flyers trailed 1-0 after Boston scored the first goal for the second game (and third overall going back to Game 6 against Buffalo) in the series. That’s when Philadelphia’s Ville Leino and Mike Richards broke down the Bruins — defensemen Matt Hunwick and Dennis Wideman, along with center Vladimir Sobotka, tried to skirt the puck out of their own half wall. Leino stripped Sobotka and rimmed it behind the net, where Danny Briere touched it back to a chasing Richards. He skated through the circle and beat Tuukka Rask with a wrist shot at 17:06.
“Yeah, they come two-guys hard. I think that in the first game we were able to break out a little bit better,” Hunwick said. “I think our defensemen have to make plays with their defensemen pinching on their forwards. You have to do a nice job on the wall. The centermen have to be low and offer them support. It really has to be a five-man breakout, and I thought tonight they did a really good job of chipping in the corners and making our 'D' turn and chase a lot of pucks down.”
It’s not that the Bruins do not know what to expect or how to deal with it. But actually executing against a team that has the sole purpose of breaking the other team down though is a different story.
“We just have to make sure that we are ready for the battle along the walls, especially when there is some pinching and heavy forechecking, you have to manage the puck well,” Julien said. “Sometimes handling the puck does not just mean whacking at it, but maybe keeping it at your feet and buying some time to get some help. So, that is how we handle those types of things. And at the other end, we are trying to turn the puck over and that is how we score as well. So, you have two teams trying to do the same thing here.”
So far, Boston has been able to handle the pressure well enough to never trail through the first two games — but it is almost like walking a tight rope over a shark pit or balancing on the blade of a knife. The way the Bruins have won the first two games — asserting themselves, then clinging to the tree branch in the flood before reasserting themselves — it stands to reason Boston won’t be looking at a sweep unless the Flyers completely fold it up. Like Game 5 in the quarterfinals against the Sabres, the Bruins will succumb one of these games.
FLYERS FEELING THE EFFECTS WITHOUT CARTER AND GAGNE
There is a tax to Laviolette’s scheme — his team was tired down the stretch in the third period. They took two penalties: a too many men on the ice bench minor at 7:32 (served by Arron Asham) and at hook from Danny Briere at 10:03. Boston took advantage of Philadelphia falling off the pressure a bit, and it ultimately led to Lucic’s game-winner when the Bruins kept the puck deep for the last few minutes before the strike.
“You know, I thought that in the third period we backed off a little too much and we didn’t get the chance behind him and go in on the forecheck,” Briere said. “We were stuck in our zone and I think we just got tired a little bit. Got to give them credit for that but it’s still disappointing, you know, scoring a goal.
“It is almost like back-to-back overtime losses they scored so late. The good thing, the positive, is we know we can play. We know we’re right there, could be a bounce going one way or the other than can change the outcome.”
The Briere penalty was directly a function of how the Flyers play. He could not catch up on the play and was forced to catch it with his stick. Laviolette rides Briere hard, especially considering that the team is without top forwards Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne.
Laviolette does not have a choice if he wants to create offense: Briere played 27:14 in Game 1 that had 13 minutes of overtime and then 20:50 in Game 2. Laviolette admitted that the third period was where the loss of the top forwards and the subsequent leaning on guys like Briere caught up with the Philadelphia.
“Well, at the end there, sure, there’s no doubt,” Laviolette said. “You get those big horses and that’s where you fell the effects of those guys that are out of the lineup and you can spread it around a little bit more. But you got to kill those penalties too. They happen, we got to kill them. I wish we played 5-on-5 and get a little bit more of a roll on the bench but that didn’t happen.”
Briere is a good player. He had a goal and an assist to spur the Flyers two goals and he had the end-to-end play in Game 1 that was probably the goal of the series in terms of style points thus far. But he is listed at a generous 5-foot-10, 179 points and would be more useful as a spark then the horse that pulls the carriage. As the series goes on, how he and guys like Richards respond will tell how far the Flyers can go.
DOMINATING THE DOT
Mr. Richards, meet Patrice Bergeron.
On the plane ride home, Philadelphia’s captain is going to have nightmares of Bergeron because Richard was thoroughly dominated. It almost became cruel to watch Julien deploy Bergeron to the dot and Zdeno Chara to the blue line whenever Richards came on the ice. He is a dangerous player and putting the top unit out there is exactly what Julien needs to do to try and neutralize him. Note that Richards’ goal came against Hunwick and Wideman, not Chara and Boychuk.
But a Bruins goal came against Richards. The first of the game was a simple face off and smack, where Bergeron won it and got it behind him to Boychuk, who slammed it home. Bergeron won 16-of-22 faceoffs he had all night, a 73 percent clip. Richards lost 16-of-21, a 24 percent clip.
“Well he’s been good for us all year,” Julien said. “I think that’s something he’s been well known for.
“There’s been, I think it was against Buffalo, that he did the same thing. He had lost that one in Buffalo and they scored on it. I know he was extremely bitter about it. He takes a lot of pride in being dominant in the faceoff circle. That’s an important part of the game that sometimes gets underestimated.”
David Krejci also was great in the circle, winning 8-of-13 for 62 percent. Face offs are an important part of the game and become even more important in the playoffs when puck possession is that much more critical. This is another area where the Flyers miss Carter. As a natural centerman and highly skilled player, he could help neutralize Bergeron and Krejci and maybe create a chance going the other way.