Playoff Slapshots: Game 3 tweaks, Kunitz escapes justice
Milan Lucic, David Krejci or Byron Bitz can help juice Boston's weak power play
Mike Green's soggy play should make Capitals consider cutting his ice time
Chris Kunitz deserved more than a fine for his head shot on Simeon Varlmov
Some thoughts as we look ahead to tonight's action:
1. It's quite simple, really. The key to success in the playoffs is the ability to adapt. Paul Maurice moved a few pieces around the chessboard on Monday, helping his Hurricanes steal a game on the road. If the Bruins hope to regain serve when the series shifts to Raleigh tonight for Game 3, Claude Julien needs to make a few moves of his own.
The Adams nominee understands that his team's 3-0 loss in Game 2 was dictated by two failings. The Bruins made too many mistakes with the puck and had no response for Carolina's aggressive penalty kill.
The B's have been blanked on 14 consecutive power play chances, and things are not going to get any easier. The 'Canes were a perfect nine-for-nine on the kill at home in their first round series against the Devils. The Bruins failed to connect on the power play in their two road games against the Habs.
Give Carolina credit. They've applied consistent pressure on Boston's point men (oh, how they miss Matt Hunwick), and that's not only disrupted the attack, it's created some outstanding shorthanded chances.
To counter, Boston has to change its focal point to down low, and that might require personnel changes. Milan Lucic, who had just 33 seconds of power play time in Game 2, excels on the cycle and is a reliable presence in front of the net -- a quality that was clearly absent in the loss. Lucic has to devote himself to making Cam Ward's life miserable.
Another option is David Krejci. If Carolina continues to put pressure on the points, his puck-possession skill on the half boards might open up some time and space for Boston's back men. It's a similar skill set to what Marc Savard already brings to the unit, but considering how willing both men are to drive to the net and shoot, it will create a different dynamic to the one that's clearly not working now.
And sure, the Bruins risk diminishing the effectiveness of their second power play unit, but if the first gets the job done, it's kind of a moot point, isn't it?
The B's might also look to get Byron Bitz in the lineup. The rookie forward adds a strong physical presence along the boards and is reliable in his own zone. He'd be a nice addition to a third line that looked overmatched on Monday. Coming out? Could be Chuck Kobasew, who missed practice Tuesday with the flu.
Or it could be Mark Recchi. The veteran has put in his work along the boards, but his legs are betraying him. He's not getting himself into the greasy areas. Bitz might not have the hands -- or track record -- but he has the speed and desire. That might be enough to generate a few more opportunities down low.
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2. With his team holding a 2-0 lead over Pittsburgh, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau could play it safe and maintain the status quo for Game 3. But safe, as the saying goes, is death, and if he wants to put the boot to the Penguins' throats, he should take a hard look at the play of Mike Green.
Fair to say that the Capitals wouldn't have experienced anything near the regular season success they did without the help of the Norris Trophy finalist. In the playoffs, however, he's been a liability.
Green's always been something of an adventure in his own zone, but that's the yin to his offensive yang. Still, he's managed to elevate his down-side threat level from nuisance to real liability in the first two rounds. He supposedly was slowed by the flu in the first round, but it's looking more and more like that was code for something more serious. A shoulder problem? Maybe. Clearly there hasn't been as much on his shot and his passing has lacked the usual crispness.
When the body suffers, so does the decision-making, and that's where the real problem is evident. Green's positioning has been brutal, leading directly to two of Sidney Crosby's Game 2 goals, and he's coughing up the puck far too frequently. To his credit, Green did pick up his physical play of late, and it was his hard, clean check that appears to have sidelined Kris Letang for tonight's game. But that wasn't enough to suggest that he's ready for the amount and quality of ice time he's getting (an average of more than 25 minutes in the series).
This is the time of year when stars have to play hurt, and it's admirable that Green is giving his all. But Boudreau isn't doing himself, or his team, any favors by putting him out against Pittsburgh's top line or asking him to play major minutes on the penalty kill. It's time to cut him back and let the rest of his underrated blue line pick up the slack.
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3. Reporting on a game is an imperfect process. With so much going on, there's always something you're going to miss. Case in point: as the play unfolded that led to Crosby's third goal late in Monday's 4-3 win by the Capitals, I was so busy counting how many whacks he had at the puck and trying to identify the defender (Tom Poti) who was failing to knock him into the third row that I completely missed a key moment.
I wasn't the only one who missed it, of course. There was no penalty on the play. No surprise, considering the chaos in the crease. But while it's forgivable that the officials overlooked it, it's hard to defend the league's inaction after its own official review of the play. Sure, Kunitz was fined $2,500, but there was no suspension. That's hard to swallow.
This wasn't one of those borderline hits that can be written off as a hard hockey play. It was a head shot, plain and simple.
Not that anyone expects justice to be meted out equitably by the league at this point, but it's hard to look at the pop that earned Lucic a game in the press box during the first round and think that it was remotely as vicious -- or dangerous -- as the crosscheck that Kunitz delivered.
Of course, the way he's been playing of late, keeping Kunitz on the ice might be more of a penalty to the Pens than a suspension . . .
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