A common sports adage is something like “90% of sports are mental.” This cliché could be no more accurate for the Boston Bruins in the aftermath of their second round loss to arch rival Montreal Canadiens. Over the past two seasons (including the playoffs), the Canadiens have beaten the Bruins 10 of the last 15 games. As 98.5 The Sports Hub Talk Show Host Michael Felger has said repeatedly, “Montreal just brings out the worst in the Bruins.”
For the Bruins, the pieces for a much deeper playoff run are there: Vezina, Norris, and Hart trophy finalists (G Tuuka Rask, D Zdeno Chara, C Patrice Bergeron, respectively), experienced and successful Forwards such as David Krejci, Milan Lucic, and Brad Marchand, a successful and cohesive coaching staff and front office. The core group of players from the 2011 Stanley Cup championship (which included a seven game series victory over the Canadiens) and the 2013 Stanley Cup finals run are still on the roster playing at high levels.
What happens when they play Montreal?
Over the past two seasons, the chatter leading up to a Bruins – Canadiens match-up becomes about the Canadiens drawing penalties and the Bruins retaliating to Montreal “flopping”. But this time, penalties were not the story. Collectively, the Bruins played timid and made uncharacteristic turnovers in their own zone. Then, when it was their turn to score, they missed the net (literally).
On the other end, not only has Carey Price become a very good goaltender, but P.K. Subban continues to be one of the game’s elite forwards. During the playoff series, the Canadiens were able to capitalize on several breakaway opportunities and turnovers in their offensive zone. By holding the lead much of the series, it forced the Bruins to be more aggressive on the offensive end and abandon their system of defensive hockey and grinding out goals.
Why did the Bruins play so poorly?
Ultimately, the Canadiens get under the skin of the Bruins like no other team in the NHL. They unnerve the Bruins so much so that the B’s commit uncharacteristic mistakes. Whether it’s committing a dumb penalty or not fighting in front of the net, the Bruins do not commit to playing “Bruins’ hockey” against Montreal. Acts such as Shawn Thornton squirting water at P.K. Subban or Milan Lucic’s comments in the handshake line are examples of this irritation the Bruins carry for the Canadiens. The fact is, the Canadiens force the Bruins to respond to the Canadiens antics instead of being the “Big, Bad Bruins”.
During the upcoming off-season, the biggest need for the Bruins is not on the ice but in their heads. They need to refocus themselves on playing their brand of physical hockey against the Canadiens. With the current playoff system, another match-up against the Canadiens is likely. So the Bruins need to dedicate to forcing Montreal to play “Bruins hockey” instead of worrying about penalties and whining coming from the Canadiens.