Scoring first in a hockey game can actually pay dividends.
That novel concept alluded the Boston Bruins through the first five games of their opening-round matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes. Somehow, the Bruins managed to win a pair of home games after giving up 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 garnered some quality scoring chances against Pyotr Kochektov and Antti Raanta in the opening moments of their first five games but failed to tally that elusive first goal.
Things changed in a must-win Game 6 on Thursday. Brad Marchand found twine with a slick wrist shot for his fourth goal of the series a mere 46 ticks into the second stanza to give the Bruins that coveted 1-0 lead.
The Bruins didn’t make things easy on themselves, however, after committing a quartet of penalties following Marchand’s tally. But with magnificent work clogging up the prime scoring areas and timely stops from Jeremy Swayman, they killed off all four of Carolina’s power-play opportunities in the middle-stanza, 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 evening late in the middle 20. Charlie Coyle gave the B’s a 2-0 cushion after benefitting from some puck luck following a blocked one-timer on David Pastrnak’s bid.
Andrei Svechnikov gave the Hurricanes life 3:24 into the third with his first of two goals. But the Bruins responded quickly, with Haula tipping a Charlie McAvoy feed a little over three minutes later.
Derek Forbort (point shot) and Curtis Lazar (empty-netter) each notched their first of the playoffs to secure their return trip to Raleigh.
Throughout the first six games, the Bruins and Hurricanes found themselves on the opposite end of the discipline pendulum. For the first half of Game 6, the Bruins embarked on a brigade to the penalty box, beginning after Marchand’s tally.
A borderline hold on Connor Clifton on Jordan Staal’s breakaway attempt and an ill-timed tripping infraction on Trent Frederic began Boston’s penalty-filled second period. The trips continued with Charlie McAvoy receiving a head-scratching hooking minor and Haula earning a high-sticking infraction.
Boston’s penalty kill didn’t waver. They killed all four of Carolina’s second-period power plays, including a 5-on-3 for 50 seconds following McAvoy’s minor.
With their 1-0 lead intact, the Bruins built off of 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 that we’ve killed a lot of penalties,” Cassidy said of the Bruins PK. “And hopefully, that stems a little as we go to Carolina for Game 7. We got to stay out of the box. We have to do a better job with our sticks and check with our feet.”
The reunited Lindholm-McAvoy pairing made an immediate impact
The Bruins envisioned an elite top 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 injured list for a few weeks in April, and again during Games 3, 4 and 5.
In fact, the Bruins didn’t 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 potent top pairing in action sooner rather than later.
“I think that they’re both good players,” Cassidy said of Lindholm and McAvoy. “They both have an offensive mindset as well, so I think they read off each other well. When Charlie has the puck, Lindy knows, ‘okay, if I had the puck in that situation, where would I want my partner to go. So they have that natural read off each other to get out of their end and get through the neutral zone.”
A first-period situation exemplified Cassidy’s assessment.
Lindholm found himself defending a 2-on-1 with the puck in Sebastian Aho’s stick. A timely poke check from Lindholm broke up the attempt. McAvoy then came in with a thunderous hit on Aho to prevent the Hurricanes from establishing extended possession in the attacking end.
“If you have a good player [to defend] and you’re not moving, they’re going to find spots around you,” Lindholm said of his 2-on-1 approach. “So I just wanted to put some misdirection there and force a pass, and it ended up working this time.”
“It was a clean, good hit,” Lindholm added of McAvoy’s ensuing hit on Aho. “That’s playoff hockey right there. I know if I break up a play like that, I can get the puck up quick. But he came in and cleaned it up for me there, so it was a good play on his end.”
No doubt, the Bruins will turn back to Lindholm and McAvoy on the top pair with their season once again on the line. But they’ll 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 team won each of their first six games. The last time the Bruins encountered this scenario was 11 years ago against the Canucks.
Unlike that faithful Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins lost decisively in their first two trips to Raleigh. But they also earned rather convincing wins against the Hurricanes during their three games on Causeway St. Somehow, the Bruins hope to carry their success from TD Garden to PNC Arena.
They built a good formula to carry their Game 6 success over into Game 7. The Hurricanes haven’t displayed the same confidence when they trailed at any point of 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 chances with the man-advantage following Marchand’s marker.
Of course, the Bruins will encounter less favorable matchups with the Hurricanes having the last change. They’ll have to somehow get the Bergeron line going against Carolina’s potent 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’re going to get different bounces, and you’re going to get different scenarios. It’s just how it is,” Swayman said following a 23-save outing in his first career elimination game. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure we’re playing our game come Game 7. We’re extremely excited, and we want nothing but to win. So that’s what we’re going to do.”
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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