Scoring first in a hockey game can actually pay dividends.
That novel concept eluded the Boston Bruins for the first five games of their first-round matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes. Somehow, the Bruins managed to win a couple of home games after giving up the first goal, but they couldn’t hold the Hurricanes back during their three losses in Raleigh.
It wasn’t like they came out flat either. The Bruins got some quality scoring chances against Pyotr Kochektov and Antti Raanta in the opening moments of their first five games but failed to score that elusive first goal.
Things changed in a must-win Game 6 on Thursday. Brad Marchand found the rope with a slippery wrist shot for his fourth goal of the series just 46 ticks into the second stanza to give the coveted Bruins a 1-0 lead.
However, the Bruins didn’t make things easy for themselves after committing a quartet of penalties after Marchand’s count. But with a magnificent job obstructing the main scoring areas and timely stops from Jeremy Swayman, they killed all four of Carolina’s power play chances in the middle of the verse, including a 5-on-3 chance, to keep their lead intact.
Following their pivotal kills, the Bruins converted on their second power play of the night in the late-mid 20s. Charlie Coyle gave the Bs a 2-0 cushion after benefiting from some luck following a block from one time on David Pastrnak’s offer.
Andrei Svechnikov gave the Hurricanes life at 3:24 of the third with the first of two goals. But the Bruins responded quickly with Haula tipping Charlie McAvoy just over three minutes later.
Derek Forbort (shooting point) and Curtis Lazar (empty net) each scored their first of the playoffs to secure their trip back to Raleigh.
Here’s what we learned after the Bruins’ convincing 5-2 victory in Game 6.
The penalty found its rhythm.
Through the first six games, the Bruins and Hurricanes found themselves at opposite ends of the discipline pendulum. During the first half of Game 6, the Bruins embarked on a squad toward the penalty box, starting after Marchand’s count.
A borderline check on Connor Clifton on Jordan Staal’s breakaway attempt and an ill-timed foul by Trent Frederic started Boston’s penalty-filled second period. The trips continued with Charlie McAvoy receiving a head-scratching minor hook and Haula earning a high-stick infraction.
Boston’s penalty did not waver. They shut down all four of Carolina’s second-quarter power plays, including going 5-on-3 for 50 seconds after McAvoy’s minor.
With their 1-0 lead intact, the Bruins took advantage of their poor 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’ve killed a lot of penalties,” Cassidy said of the Bruins PK. “And I hope that picks up a little bit as we head to Carolina for Game 7. We have to stay out of the box. We have to do a better job with our sticks and control with our feet.”
The reunited Lindholm-McAvoy pair had an immediate impact.
The Bruins envisioned an elite pairing when they acquired Lindholm from Anaheim at the trade deadline. But they hardly reaped the benefits of that Lindholm-McAvoy pairing with Lindholm spending time on the disabled list for a few weeks in April, and again during Games 3, 4 and 5.
In fact, the Bruins didn’t imagine McAvoy would return from the COVID-19 protocol as quickly as he did. They figured Lindholm would be back early, but hoped to see that potentially potent top pair in action sooner rather than later.
Cassidy and the coaching staff brought Lindholm and McAvoy together in a must-win Game 6. They immediately reaped the benefits.
“I think they’re both good players,” Cassidy said of Lindholm and McAvoy. “They’re both offensively minded as well, so I think they play well. When Charlie has the record, Lindy knows, ‘Okay, if I had the record in that situation, where would I want my partner to go? So they have that natural read between them to come out on their side and get through the neutral zone.”
A first period situation exemplified Cassidy’s assessment.
Lindholm found himself defending a 2v1 with the puck on Sebastian Aho’s post. A timely check from Lindholm interrupted the attempt. McAvoy then came in with a thunderous slam on Aho to prevent the Hurricanes from establishing an extended possession on the attacking end.
“If you have a good player [to defend] and you’re not moving, they’re going to find places around you,” Lindholm said of his 2-on-1 approach. “So I just wanted to swerve the direction a little bit and force a pass, and this time it worked.”
“It was a good clean shot,” Lindholm added of McAvoy’s subsequent hit on Aho. “That’s postseason hockey right there. I know if I interrupt a play like that, I can get the puck out fast. But he came in and cleaned it up for me there, so that was a good move on his part.”
The Bruins will no doubt return Lindholm and McAvoy to the top pair with their season once again on the line. But they will need some favorable rebounds in hostile territory.
Can the Bruins sustain this success in a do-or-die Game 7?
In an unusual development, the home team won each of their first six games. The last time the Bruins encountered this scenario was 11 years ago against the Canucks.
Unlike in that trusty Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins lost decisively in their first two trips to Raleigh. But they also had pretty convincing wins against the Hurricanes during their three games at Causeway St. Somehow, the Bruins hope to bring their success from TD Garden to PNC Arena.
They built a good formula to carry their success from Game 6 to Game 7. The Hurricanes haven’t shown the same confidence when they find themselves trailing at any point in their three losses. The Bruins scored first for the first time in the series on Thursday, and the ‘Canes couldn’t take advantage to even things up with their four man-up opportunities after Marchand’s scoring.
Of course, the Bruins will find matchups less favorable with the Hurricanes having the latest trade. They’ll need to get Bergeron’s line up against Carolina’s potent third trio of Staal, Jesper Fast and Nino Niederreiter.
But a bounce can go a long way in a proverbial craps game.
“It’s hockey. You will get different bounces and different scenarios. That’s the way it is,” Swayman said after a 23-save outing in his first career elimination game. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure we play our game in Game 7. We’re extremely excited and we just want to win. So that’s what we’re going to do.”
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