BOSTON – In recent years, the Boston Bruins have not had a great power play; the Bruins’ power play was ranked among the 10 worst in the league for three of the last four seasons. Their worst performance on the man advantage over the course of a season came this year, as the Bruins finished 26th in the NHL with a 14.8-percent success rate. Those struggles carried over into the playoffs, and in their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins scored just three power-play goals on 20 chances.
But in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Rangers, the power play finally served its purpose for Boston. The Bruins not only scored a power-play goal on Thursday night, but they also used the man advantage as a momentum-builder en route to a 3-2 overtime win.
In the third period of Thursday night’s game, the Bruins were in need of a lift. The Rangers had tied the game at 1-1 with 1.3 seconds remaining in the second period, and then they scored again 14 seconds into the third period to take a 2-1 lead. But less than a minute later, New York’s Steve Eminger put the Bruins on the power play thanks to a holding call, and the Bruins took advantage of the opportunity.
Thanks to some speed and crisp passing from Brad Marchand and Dougie Hamilton, AHL call-up Torey Krug converted on the power play by beating Henrik Lundqvist on a slap shot from the top of the left circle, tying the game at 2-2.
The goal turned what had been a semi-quiet power play into a game-changer, because after all, many coaches will say that goals in the first and last minute of the period are devastating. Before Krug’s goal, the Bruins had allowed both to happen while also watching their lead in the game disappear. After the goal, it was anybody’s game.
“Timing is everything,” said coach Claude Julien. “I thought for Torey to score that big goal for us — great timing. We just seemed to take the momentum from that point on.”
The Bruins earned more momentum at the end of the third period during 1:35 of a man advantage. The Bruins challenged Lundqvist with four shots during John Moore’s penalty and, thanks to the offensive zone presence established by the power play, the Bruins remained in attack mode for the final seconds of the period. Johnny Boychuk nearly gave the Bruins a win in regulation when his rocket from the point hit the post just as the clock wound down to zero.
The most impactful power play of the night came in overtime, when 2:20 into the extra frame, Derek Dorsett was whistled off for interfering with Rich Peverley in the neutral zone. The Bruins exhausted Lundqvist and set the tone for the overtime period by attempting eight shots and totaling six shots on net.
“We never regrouped,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said of the Bruins’ overtime power play. “It was a surge. We couldn’t stop it.”
But even though the Rangers struggled mightily to kill off the Bruins’ power play in overtime, sometimes teams who put a ton of shots on net during a power play and fail to score lose momentum from the advantage due to the frustration of failing to find the back of the net amidst so many opportunities. Instead, however, Julien said the Bruins used the power play as an example for how to play even-strength as well.
“It was just about continuing, and our guys after the power play said, ‘Let’s keep taking it to these guys,’” Julien said. “We spent the whole two minutes in their end and had some great chances, but Lundqvist made some big saves at the right time. Again, they made some good shot blocks, as they normally do killing penalties, but I thought our guys just continued to move the puck around, and we had some great chances.”
Thanks in large part to that power play, the Bruins went on to outshoot the Rangers by a 16-5 margin in overtime, completely dominating play through the entirety of the extra frame.
In the past, the Bruins have found playoff success in spite of an often anemic power play. It’s nearly impossible to forget the Stanley Cup season, when the Bruins failed to score a power-play goal through their first nine playoff games and finished the playoffs with an abysmal 11.4-percent success rate on the power play. This year, the Bruins beat the Maple Leafs in the first round despite a disappointing 15-percent success rate with the man advantage.
But it can be a lot easier to win in the playoffs with a functional power play, and this time around, the Bruins said their power play might be hitting its stride in the playoffs. Marchand noted after the game just how much of a boost the team received from its performance on the man advantage.
“Obviously, we didn’t have the best power play all year, but we’re starting to come around,” Marchand said. “If we’re not scoring, then we’re getting some opportunities. You want to get some momentum off of those. In overtime especially, we had some really good opportunities but we didn’t finish. We just seemed to feed off of that and played very well after that.”