Being the first to score in a hockey game can even pay dividends.
That new concept escaped the Boston Bruins during the first five games of their opening round game with the Carolina Hurricanes. Somehow, the Bruins managed to win a few home games after conceding the first goal, but failed to push back against the Hurricanes during their three losses in Raleigh.
It wasn’t like they came out flat either. The Bruins had some good scoring opportunities against Pyotr Kochektov and Antti Raanta in the opening moments of their first five games, but failed to score that elusive first goal.
Things turned into a must-win Game 6 on Thursday. Brad Marchand found smooth wrist rope for his fourth goal of the series, just 46 taps into the second stanza to give the Bruins coveted a 1-0 lead.
The Bruins didn’t make it easy for themselves, however, after taking a quartet of penalties after Marchand’s count. But with beautiful work hiding key scoring areas and timely stops from Jeremy Swayman, they wiped out all four of Carolina’s power play opportunities in the middle stanza, including a 5-on-3 chance, to keep their lead intact.
After their crucial wins, the Bruins converted in their second power play of the night in the mid-20th. Charlie Coyle gave the B’s a 2-0 cushion after taking advantage of some puck luck following a blocked one-timer on David Pastrnak’s bid.
Andrei Svechnikov gave the Hurricanes his life 3:24 in the third with his first of two goals. But the Bruins reacted quickly and Hala tipped Charlie McAvoy just over three minutes later.
Derek Forbort (point shot) and Curtis Lazar (empty-netter) each made it to their first of the playoffs to secure their return trip to Raleigh.
Here’s what we learned after the Bruins’ convincing 5-2 win in Game 6.
The penalty kill found its groove.
For the first six games, the Bruins and Hurricanes were on the other side of the discipline pendulum. For the first half of Game 6, the Bruins started a brigade into the penalty area, starting after Marchand’s count.
A borderline hold on Connor Clifton on Jordan Staal’s breakaway attempt and an ill-timed tripping foul on Trent Frederic kicked off Boston’s penalty-filled second period. The travels continued with Charlie McAvoy receiving a head-scratching hooking minor and Haula earning a high-sticking foul.
Boston’s penalty kill didn’t waver. They killed all four of Carolina’s power plays in the second period, including a 5-on-3 for 50 seconds after McAvoy’s minor.
With their 1-0 lead intact, the Bruins built on their shorthanded momentum. They didn’t waste much time extending their lead to 2-0 on Coyle’s power play marker.
“It’s been a series where we killed a lot of penalties,” Cassidy said of the Bruins PK. “And hopefully that kind of kicks in as we go to Carolina for Game 7. We need to stay out of the box. We need to do better with our sticks and control with our feet.”
The reunited Lindholm-McAvoy pairing made an immediate impression.
The Bruins envisioned an elite top pair when they bought Anaheim’s Lindholm on the trade deadline. But they barely reaped the benefits of that Lindholm-McAvoy pairing with Lindholm who was on the injured list for a few weeks in April, and again at Games 3, 4 and 5.
The Bruins didn’t even envision McAvoy returning from COVID-19 protocol as soon as he did. They thought Lindholm would return sooner, but they hoped to see that potentially powerful top pair in action sooner rather than later.
Cassidy and the coaching staff reunited Lindholm and McAvoy in a must-win game. They immediately reaped the benefits.
“I think they’re both good players,” Cassidy said of Lindholm and McAvoy. “They both have an attacking mentality, so I think they can read each other well. When Charlie has the puck, Lindy knows, ‘Okay if I had the puck in that situation, where would I want to go with my partner? have that natural reading of each other to get out of their end and get through the neutral zone.”
A situation in the first period was an example of Cassidy’s assessment.
Lindholm defended a 2-on-1 with the puck in Sebastian Aho’s stick. A timely check from Lindholm broke the attempt. McAvoy then came in with a resounding hit on Aho to prevent the Hurricanes from gaining extensive possession in the offensive section.
“If you have a good player” [to defend] and you don’t move, they’re going to find spots around you,” Lindholm said of his 2-on-1 approach. “So I just wanted to put some deception there and force a pass, and it worked this time.”
“It was a good hit,” added Lindholm of McAvoy’s subsequent hit on Aho. ‘That’s play-off hockey over there. I know if I break up a play like that, I can get the puck fast. But he came in and cleaned it up for me there, so it was a good game on his part.”
No doubt the Bruins will return to Lindholm and McAvoy in the top pair with their season on the line once again. But they need a few favorable bounces in hostile territory.
Can the Bruins sustain this success in a do-or-die Game 7?
In an unusual development, the home side won each of their first six games. The last time the Bruins encountered this scenario was against the Canucks 11 years ago.
Unlike that faithful Stanley Cup final, the Bruins lost decisively in their first two trips to Raleigh. But they also had some pretty convincing wins against the Hurricanes in their three games at Causeway St. Somehow, the Bruins hope to take their success from TD Garden to PNC Arena.
They have developed a good formula to carry over their Game 6 success into Game 7. The Hurricanes have not shown the same confidence when they find themselves lagging behind at any point of their three losses. The Bruins scored first in the series on Thursday and the ‘Canes failed to take advantage of their four man advantage opportunities after Marchand’s marker.
Of course, the Bruins will encounter less favorable matchups with the Hurricanes having the final change. They will have to somehow get the Bergeron line going against Carolina’s powerful third trio of Staal, Jesper Fast and Nino Niederreiter.
But one bounce can go a long way in a proverbial crapshoot.
“It’s hockey. You get different bounces and you get different scenarios. It’s just the way it is,” Swayman said after a 23-save outing in his first elimination game of his career. “We are going to do everything we can to make sure we play our game in Game 7. We are extremely excited and we want nothing more than to win. So that’s what we’re going to do.”
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