If you read the Puck Daddy staff prognostications for the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, you'll recall that the voters were high on the Boston Bruins. Really high. As in, only one of us picked the Montreal Canadiens in their first-round battle against the B's, and six of us picked the Bruins to win the Eastern Conference championship.
The Bruins are down 2-0 to the Habs after two losses on home ice. As has been often quoted in the last 24 hours: "Boston has never, in 26 tries, won a playoff series after losing the first two games."
How did this happen? Here are five reasons why the Bruins are being embarrassed by the Canadiens.
1. After rebound season, Tim Thomas has a rebound problem
You hesitate to say that Thomas, prohibitive favorite for the Vezina, has been the main problem for the Bruins, but he's certainly not been the solution. The 36-year-old keeper has watched Carey Price win two games in Boston, playing the kind of stellar and confident hockey that the B's needed from Thomas. They haven't gotten it.
From Joe Haggerty of Comcast SportsNet New England, after Game 2:
It was as big a must-win as a postseason game can be in a non-elimination scenario with Montreal's Bell Centre looming in the immediate future, and Thomas once again came up woefully short when his team needed greatness in the playoffs.
Claude Julien was trying not to throw his star-studded goaltender under the bus with Tuukka Rask chomping at the bit to jump into the fray, but it was clear the B's coach wasn't happy with Thomas' results. Instead Julien opted not to talk about his goaltender's performance when asked about an evaluation -- not exactly a ringing endorsement for Thomas as he scrambled through the opening minutes of the game and then couldn't pull off the big save at the big moment.
He's surrendered too many rebounds, and too often those rebounds arrive in the slot or for a Montreal Canadiens chance around the goal. Some of that you put on the Boston blueline for not keeping Thomas out of trouble; but a lot of it falls on Thomas.
2. No Chara, no winning
Zdeno Chara came out for warm-ups but was pulled from Game 2 due to whatever ailment caused the dehydration that sent him to the hospital on Friday night. He didn't seem himself in Game 1, and couldn't play in Game 2, and the Bruins simply can't overcome that absence.
Shane Hnidy, his replacement, played 4:13. That's less than Shawn Thornton played in Game 1. The defensemen that picked up Chara's minutes couldn't replicate his results: Johnny Boychuk was a minus-2, and Dennis Seidenberg was another minus-2, going minus-4 for the series.
The Bruins were playing with fire when it came to defensive depth, and it burned them in Game 2.
Chara's return for Game 3 is, at this point, mandatory if the Bruins are going to turn this series around. Not only for what he gives them on the ice but for changing the conversation off the ice when he comes back to Bell Centre for the first time as a post-Pacioretty lightning rod.
3. The Canadiens, Playoff Edition
For all the Bruins' problems, let's not forget about the other side of the ice.
Because the Habs are doing it again.
Montreal is second in the playoffs in blocked shots with 46, seven behind the Capitals, who obviously learned a thing or two last season. It's fourth in takeaways at 16; Boston has eight.
They're outhustling a higher seed; they're getting outstanding goaltending from Carey Price, who is getting into the Bruins' heads in a Halakian manner; and above all else, they're forcing the issue early in games. Which brings us to …
4. Down early, down often
Like any team confident in its defensive system, the Canadiens want you playing into their hands from the opening puck drop. So getting the first goal, and getting it early, is a hallmark of their postseason runs last year and, so far, this playoff.
The Bruins know this: Brian Gionta scored 2:44 into Game 1. Michael Cammalleri scored 43 seconds into Game 2.
Go back to last season: Gionta scored 1 minute into Game 2 on the road against the Washington Capitals, which ended up being an overtime loss. Cammalleri, 1:30 into Game 5, a victory at Washington. P.K. Subban, 4:30 into Game 1 against Pittsburgh. Tom Pyatt, 2:34 into Game 4 in Montreal. Cammalleri, 1:13 into Game 6 vs. Pittsburgh. Gionta, 32 seconds into that series' Game 7.
This speaks to the aggression the Montreal forwards have from the start of the game, and the fact that many of their opponents — for whatever reasons — simply don't match that intensity. The Bruins are the latest in that lot.
Boston had a .190 winning percentage when trailing after the first period in the regular season, winning four times in 21 situations. We're seeing the same thing playing out now.
5. Finally, Nathan Horton is very excited, not very good
Late in Game 2, Horton was removed from the Bruins' top line in favor of Rich Peverley, and the move was ironic: Here is Horton, playing very much like an overexcited energy liner, getting replaced by a depth forward.
For the second straight game, Horton was hitting and battling against Montreal. But he wasn't effective around the net, he took a dumb roughing penalty behind the Montreal net when his linemate David Krejci was about to have a scoring chance, and then he smashed his stick over the wall near the bench. Part of the stick actually deflected back out onto the ice. So much for the adage "never let them see you sweat."
If Horton thinks the answer to everything is to get angry, the Bruins are going to need to cut off his Red Bull supply or do something to calm him down. Their No. 1 right winger didn't manage a shot on goal and spent the third period on a line with Chris Kelly and Michael Ryder instead of Krejci and Milan Lucic.
It's Horton's first bit of Stanley Cup Playoff experience after his exile in South Beach ended last summer. Against a Montreal team that isn't giving up any defensive ground, they need him to make a difference, and he hasn't.
Then again, how many Bruins could you easily say that about after two games?