Tonights game was almost as much about who wasn’t on the ice as who was. Jeff Carter, Chris Pronger would not play at all removing a scoring threat up front, an then tons of gamesmanship, acres of snarl and boat load of minutes on the backend. Brian Boucher would be injured by a Johnny Boychuck shot in the second and spend the rest of the period in the lockerroom before surprising everyone with his return for the third period. Adam McQuaid proved the only thing in an NHL arena that could hurt him was the arena by missing what promised to be an enormous check on Mike Richards, he went head first into the boards and lay very, very still for almost a minute before getting to his feet and being helped off the ice by Chara and Lucic.

With Andrew Ference pinching in low in the offensive zone the puck popped out to Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk who wasted no time getting up ice. Johnny Boychuck would attempt to take away the pass by going down on the ice as the only Bruins player in front of  Tim Thomas. van Reimsdyk was good enough to get the goal anyway. This was the Flyers first shot. Eight minutes later the Bruins were on the penalty kill. Campbell was in the box for holding, and after almost a minute of scrambling in front of the crease JVR would strike again. Less than ten minutes in the Flyers were up two nothing.

After scrambling, opportunism, and snatching the puck from Flyers right and left, Chris Kelly would get an “ugly goal” from in close with the puck going in a half breath before the net was dislodged. A couple shifts later Patrice Bergeron would make space for himself, draw the attention of four Flyers defenders. He then shifted position slightly, passed the puck to Brad Marchand who had his snap shot set on stunning would tie the game less than ninety seconds after the Chris Kelly goal. That’s where the scoring would stay until very late in overtime when David Krejci would stretch the twine with a goal that brought half the roster onto the ice, but would not be counted as a good goal until over a minute and a review later.

Tim Thomas was the story of the game, more than fifty saves including a third period that saw him stonewall the Flyers twenty two times. By comparison, Roberto Luongo faced just seventeen shots in game one of the Canucks series against the Predators.

After a performance that nearly soared to piss-poor, we can all hope the officials are not the story of the game again. That said, the players on both sides need to bring a little bit more to the table to make things a good game. The Bruins need to apply a little better defensive pressure, and the Flyers as Laviolette said need to do everything better.

Which Bruins line starts the game? It may sound silly, but at one time I could tell you if the Bruins were going to win the game or not just by which line started and how they did.  So will the Bergeron line start the game as they have several of these playoff games? Will the Krejci line do so? Could Julien go off the grid with either of the other lines? Watch them, they will set the tone for at least the first ten minutes.

Which Mike Richards will show up? Late in the regular season, and even into the first series my Twitter timeline was awash with criticism of his effort, and when I did the Horses and Hopefuls post for InsideHockey.com the comment on that post, from a Flyers fan says it all.

Can Milan Lucic get a point? While he was key to setting up the Nathan Horton series winner, and is a plus three so far this post season, its actually been less productive points wise than any of his previous three trips.

Will we see a fight? These were the two teams who brought fighting to the Winter Classic, and neither is shy about shedding the gloves, as chippy as it was getting it might ratchet the tension back down on both sides.

With Boucher starting, and his 2.95 GAA against the Bruins how long will he be in net? Three goals in the playoffs in a high hurdle.

What’s Pronger going to pull out of his bag of tricks this time? He started the sparks in game one selling an interference call on Paille on an icing, and earning a slashing call.

1;52 into the game, Bruins grab their first lead and would never trail. Krejci pots his first. Despite the relative balance of the regular season series, the Bruins had as much as a four goal lead. The scoring however wasn’t the story, nor the fun smashmouth physical play.

The biggest story was a continuation of the utter lack of officiating competence. Of all the penalties called there were probably three a side that were legitimate penalties. The Marchand tripping call on Pronger was almost as egregious a dive as PK Subbans trust fall in game seven. Paille was penalized for ‘contact’ on an icing against Pronger who promptly slashed him, Pronger probably deserved an intent to injure on that as it was in no way a hockey play. Going the other way, the call of goaltender interference on Rinaldo was just silly. It not only wasn’t goaltender interference, it wasn’t anything like goaltender interference.

From rule 69 of the NHL Rulebook:

If an attacking player has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending player so as to cause him to come into contact with the goalkeeper, such contact will not be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.

Rinaldo and Seidenberg were lockedup when they went into  Thomas, Ronaldo made no effort to enhance the contact with Thomas, this was such a bad, bad call and it was early enough in the game to set the tone. Just horrific officiating from the word go.

The next leading storyline was the spastic play of the Flyers defense. Mark Recchi’s goal was the result of his tenacity, and the Flyers defense standing around waiting for the next bus to come by. This again was typical of the Flyers defense which aided the Bruins by standing around in their own zone or being wildly out of position on a goal. The opening goal of the game was Krejci’s and made me wonder if anyone told the Flyers that Czech center could actually score and they might wanna cover him. Campbell’s goal was possibly the only one in which the Flyers looked like they were in position.

Game two is Monday night.

 

The series is guaranteed to be very different for both teams than than their first round matches. Both teams are physical, both reply on their physicality, and their opponents to key their emotions, and sharpen their play.  Here are the key story lines to series.

Missing in action:

Milan Lucic and Chris Pronger will each be looked to for greater input on this series than the last. While its unlikely we’ll see the two of them throwing the body at each other, neither will pass up the opportunity to make an impact on the scoreboard or someoness body.

Net math 3 != 1

Tim Thomas is not Tukka Rask, nor is he one of the three goalies to start for the Flyers in the first round, or the fourth guy who got dressed. Tim Thomas will need to match or better his first round .926 2.25 numbers to get to the conference finals. The platoon of goalies in Philadelphia will have to step up just to compete.

A-wristed-development

Neither Mike Richards, nor David Krejci has had the impact of the formers hit on the latter in the playoffs thus far. Krejci has more goals, with just one, and Richards has more points. With depth being what separates contenders from champions, these two will need to kick the dust of the spurs and get into it this round.

After the giants

Pronger and Chara are two of the most imposing and impressive men ever to play their position. But this series will not be decided by them, it will be Seidenberg, Ference, and Mcquaid dueling with Timonnen, Mezaros, Coburn. How these guys stand up to their opponents is probably the single most interestting subplot of the series.

Is it really a power play?

Neither team had a useful power play in the first round, if either team can ignite theirs this could be a tipping point in the series.

 

The obvious answers to the question of how the Bruins beat the Canadiens are pretty straight forward: They scored, they scored more.  The less obvious answers require a bit more parsing.

First and most obvious was Bergeron attacking the puck and setting up Krejci’s layup. Getting the first goal when you are the more offensively adept team puts the other team in a more defensive posture. They know they can’t give up too many more opportunities, and it showed. When Horton added his goal, the Canadiens were in a distinctly different posture on the ice than they had been before in the series. They spent far more time drawing and attempting to draw penalties than they had in the first two games through out the course of the last forty-five minutes.

Second, the defensive shuffle allowed several players to do what they do best. McQuaid was paired with Kaberle, and Chara and Seidenberg were paired. As pairings Kaberle with either Seidenberg or Chara are less than the sum of their parts. In Chara’s case he ends up spending far more time concentrating on defense than he should because no one believes that is Kaberles strong point, which saps his offensive energy and opportunities. With Seidenberg who is more a defensive defenseman who is offensive opportunistically rather than as a  constant throws Kaberle into assuming full defensive responsibility when Seidenberg pinches in trying to create or exploit an opportunity. While Kaberle is physically quick. I haven’t seen anything to suggest he processes the defensive portion of the game well enough to react and arrive in the right place, at the right time often enough.

With McQuaid knowing his job is first, second, and third to make life tough on anyone going to the net with the puck paired with Kaberle each of them is allowed to use their best tools. Seidenberg and Chara together are more of a two man two way threat. Each is capable of contributing offensively with solid numbers, Seidenbergs skating makes him the faster of the two, but both hit and block shots for a total in excess of 100 in each category in the regular season. With no defenseman having been a minus player in the game, despite having given up both goals at even strength I suspect we’ll see these pairings again.

Another change was the powerplay units. While the Bruins were again dismal on the powerplay, with Bergeron on the second powerplay unit it leaves the teams best two way presence on the ice when the opposing player comes out of the box, which is what led to Bergeron and Krejci connecting for the first assist of Bergeron’s night. I liked the purposeful movement of both the puck and the players on this unit a lot more than the endless dangling of the Kaberle-Krejci unit.

The last thing that can’t be overlooked that led to the Bruins win was simple. Price was fallible. More explicitly, Price was fallible and the Bruins were in good position to exploit it. Peverley got a goal for being in the right place. Hortong got a goal for being in a high probability rebound lane, Krejci got a goal for getting open and being in “the dirty areas”. The only Bruin to score before tonight also had two assists tonight. In the first game, Price was in the zone, period. In game two he had chinks which only Bergeron managed to exploit.  In this game the Bruins pressed, did all the important little things, and did them consistently.

Did the Bruins score tonight? No, could they have possibly. Remember this is the mostly the same squad that squeezed the life out of Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Mike Green, Sidney Crosby, Evgany Malkin and all the rest. Those were two of the most powerful offenses then last year, but each lacked a viable defense and neither had a top shelf goalie.

The Bruins had two legitimate breakdowns in an otherwise dominant performance. The first period goal was a misread of the play by Kaberle that left Gionta alone in front. The second was the result of Lucic getting stick checked ten feet inside the blueline, and Seidenberg failing to get the block. These were not the result of long term apathy or failure to clear the puck from their own zone, they allowed just twenty shots on goal. It wasn’t the result of people tripping over their own goalie, or the goalie getting run over. Lucic is a steady presence in the playoffs and entered this off season a +12 in second season play, even having been badly hobbled last year. Kaberle hasn’t been in the playoffs since the lockout, and the Leafs system even then was a touch different from the current Boston modus operandi.

In other areas, the Bruins dominated the faceoff circle led by Bergeron, Krejci and Kelly. They hit well and often. They also blocked shots at a solid pace.

I’m not nearly as worried about the loss as i would be if they came out and did nothing for two and a half periods and tried to win in the last five minutes. This was a loss, and as a series opener it has some stature, but as we well know from watching Thomas do it to other teams for years, sometimes you just run into a goalie who’s game is unbeatable that night.

Take 1 drink if/when:

PK Subban and or Brad Marchand are locked up with someone and jawing after a whistle.

The word “rivalry” is used by any announcer or commentator.

A comparison is made between the teams speed.

Composure is used to describe any player, line or team.

Dryden, Moog, Roy, Halak or any other goalie not on either roster is mentioned.

Take 2 drinks if/when:

Mention is made of the Chara-Pacioretty incident

The words “Original Six” are used.

Any player scores a hat trick.

The word “clutch” is used twice in the same breath by anyone.

Someone snarks about the shootout if a game goes to overtime.

A pink hat around you asks a question confirming their status.

If another pink hat responds and gets the answer wrong.

Take 3 drinks if/when:

An announcer says a team came out flat.

Milan Lucic is suspended for a game for hitting someone.

Sidney Crosby is mentioned in anyway not relating to something he has done during a post season game this season.

Any amplifier such as: storied, historic, bitter or intense is used with the word “rivalry”.

 

Skip your next drink if:

You think you here any player in their second season or later respond to the media in anyway that doesn’t sound scripted or cliched.

You think you here anyone refer to the incident between Carey Price and Tim Thomas as a serious fight.

You find yourself agreeing with a pink hat.

You start to believe the series will be easy for either team.

 

In the east:

1: Washington vs 8: New York Rangers

What a contrast in styles. The Rangers are built from the royal cage out, the Capitals have wingers like no others. The Rangers won the season series but limped into the playoffs with just two points more than the ninth place Hurricanes. The Capitals put on a late surge fueled by their team captain Alex Ovechkin and his eight points in the last five games.

Pick: Capitals

Why: They finally learned to play defense this year and the Rangers may have an emotional let down after having played for their lives for six weeks.

2: Philadelphia vs 7: Buffalo

The Buffalo Sabres stampeded from a double digit place in the standings to beating the Rangers by three points in the standings. The Flyers on the other hand stumbled in the last quarter of the season from leading the league to putting their division lead in doubt.

Pick: Sabres

Why:  Better goaltending at 1 and 2, Brad Boyes coming out of his funk.

3: Boston vs. 6: Montreal

Sports rivalries don’t get any bigger than this. You can talk about Red Sox – Yankees or Celtics – Lakers or good coverage – ESPN,. it doesn’t matter this beats all of them. Boston won the last postseason dance in convincing fashion. Montreal won the season series for the last two years. Boston plastered the team in their last tilt in the regular season.

My pick: Boston.

Why: Deeper team, better in all every way but team speed.

4: Pittsburgh vs 5: Tampa Bay

Last year if these two had squared off it would have been two teams slugging their way to nuance free, undisciplined 8-7 finals. This year, the teams are a more entertaining match with a contrast in style that stems from the Penguins who will be without Malkin, and Crosby still up in the air, the Penguins are still the more balanced team.

Pick: Pittsburgh

Why: No team with defense as bad as Tampa Bay can go far.

 

The west

1: Vancouver vs 8: Chicago

The current Presidents Trophy winners and the defending (and heavily revamped) Stanley Cup champs will dance for the right to play some more. I suspect this series comes down to goaltending Loungo has had more rest than he did last season, and Crawford has had am impressive rookie season, which ever of the two is most able to control the flow of the game will lead their team on.

Pick:  Vancouver

Why: More depth, more balance despite the injuries.

2: San Jose vs. 7: Los Angeles

Well, its about time. Not only did all three California teams make the second season, two will square off in the first round. The Kings have the better goaltending, have had the heart of the lineup ripped out with the loss of Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams an iffy prospect, the Sharks have never shown an ability to do it well in April and May. In a division that has seen more lead changes and the Batman movie franchise, I’m not sure winning the division after an awful start is much of an accomplishment. I’m also not sure an up and down season like the one the Kings had is a great thing to prepare for the playoffs.

Pick: San Jose

Why: Better depth at center.

3: Detroit vs 6 Phoenix

This is not a good matchup for the Red Wings, the Coyotes had points in all four regular season meetings, Motowns heroes only had points in two.  Like the rest of their division Yotes went up and down the standings so many times the teams trainers probably handed out as many Dramamine as ice packs.

Pick: Pheonix

Why: Younger, hungrier, better defense, more to prove.

4: Anaheim vs 5: Nashville

While this is probably a ratings nightmare for the NHL home office, its a boon for the small market and sunbelt teams. Nashville ducks out of playing Detroit, Anaheim gets the backing of any casual Californian fans. While the two teams have markedly different styles that just makes for a much more entertaining round. This may end up being the best first round matchup in the Western Conference.

Pick: Nashville

Why: Much better defense.

It’s time to #DropThePuck on the post season! The Stanley Cup Playoffs are coming.

Off the Faceoff is a semi-regular feature filled with a varying number of one(ish) line thoughts, mostly on hockey.

 

In regards to the Issue of the week: You always know where you are and who’s where on the ice.

Me: B**** Please! How many times a season are we treated to the sight of two or three teammates plowing into each other on the ice? What about the players who trip over their own goalie without being pushed? Or the guys who get their stick hung up in the netting or the goal?  Nice fantasy, but I prefer mine in print form and clearly labeled as such.
Goonery on March 24th.  It has been posited that some schlep will be brought up to fight Chara for his technically correct, but ill timed hit.

Me:  It wouldn’t surprise me. Ryan White has played 12 games for the Habs this season and has yet to record a goal. He has 77 PIM’s in 33 AHL games and just 12 points, seriously you’d think that a team with LTIR cap space, and the 22nd ranked offense would call up someone who was of use with their gloves on.

Playoffs, who’s in.

Me: Two west predictions to make it, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes.

Two Coaches who should get Jack Adams notice in the east

Me: Bruce Boudreau for keeping his team at or near the top of the conference while (finally) implementing reasonable defensive structure and having several key players forget how to score. Dan Bylsma, with more man games lost than any one wants to think about and almost as much salary on IR as on the ice, he’s kept his team within striking distance of the division and conference lead.

What the experts say about the hit: Kevin Weekes, and Carey Price both say you know where you are on the ice at all times. Jeremy Roenick says he was often surprised to hit those stanchions or be hit into them. Mathew Barnaby says he fought Chara three times and that the guy isn’t dirty.

Me: Is it any surprise that both Price and Weekes are goalies who spend 99% of their in the same pretty small area within the crease and the rest within two strides of it feel you know where you are all the time? Not really, but goalie isn’t like any other position on the team. Roenick played more than 1500 NHL games and called five different NHL arenas in both conference home, I can’t see someone with more than 500 goals and 1200 points to their credit can’t be counted as highly creditable on the topic of on ice awareness.  As for Barnaby:

I don’t see how that disposes someone towards excess sympathy.