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May 07. 2014 10:52PM

Game 4

Ian Clark's On Hockey: Bruins need to get off to a fast start in Game 4


Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban (76) reacts after getting first star of the game award in game three of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre. (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

HOW DO THE Boston Bruins respond in Game 4? Put simply, they have to be better. Better in several areas.

Can they be better? That’s the question awaiting an answer tonight when Boston plays at Montreal, trailing in the best-of-seven playoff series, 2-1.

Let’s start with starting, as in opening the game. Boston has been sluggish out of the gate in every game this series. If not for the surge in Game 2, Boston could very well be behind 3-0 in the series and facing elimination, all because of sleepwalking through the early stages of the game.

“Our team again just wasn’t good enough to start to give ourselves a chance here,” said Bruins head coach Claude Julien after the 4-2 Game 3 loss Tuesday. “We need to rebound here and make sure that we’re ready from the start of the game at the drop of the puck.”

Whether it’s a big hit, early goal or even just a strong first shift to generate a scoring chance, the Bruins need to do something tonight to get revved up early and take out the rowdy Montreal crowd that smells blood in this series.

If an early fire can be lit by the Bruins’ top line of David Krecji, Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla, then that would take care of another area where Boston needs to be better. The top line is simply not getting it done. They have just seven combined goals in the playoffs and two of them were deposited into an empty net.

“This is a line that has been hot and cold for us in the playoffs so far. We need them,” Julien said. “David I think has shown a little bit of frustration there. He’s got to battle through that stuff. It’s a line that’s given us a lot this year and sometimes you have to have a little bit of trust and right now that’s what I’ve got. Things have got to get better for that line for us to be successful.”

Another area where Boston needs more is between the pipes. Tuukka Rask has not played poorly, but he’s also not played to the elite level needed at this time of year.On Montreal’s first goal Tuesday, Rask was fooled badly when Thomas Vanek’s slapper turned out to be a pass and not a shot.

Rask went down to make a save on the would-be shot but was woefully out of position when the puck instead went to Tomas Plekanec in the left circle for an easy shot into the open net.

The other two Canadiens’ goals Tuesday were breakaways, which means the start of the problem is not Rask’s.

But those breakaway goals, a nasty fake and score from P.K. Subban and a snap through the five-hole from Dale Weise, are clutch saves that goaltenders playing at the highest level need to make in crucial situations.

But let’s not lay this all at the skates of the Bruins. The 2-1 Montreal lead has as much to do with the Canadiens’ good play as it does with Boston’s bad. This is a Montreal team playing its best hockey.

The Canadiens dispatched Tampa Bay in four games (albeit a Lightning team without star goalie Ben Bishop) and are now 6-1 in the postseason.

A big part of that has been stud defenseman Subban, who continues to build a legend for himself as a villain to Boston sports fans. It’s likely he’s so hated by the Bruins faithful because he talks a big game and backs it up. You better believe if he wore black and gold he’d be a fan favorite just as he is in Quebec.

Right now, the Bruins need their own Subban. Someone has to step up and get Boston’s mojo going in the right direction. As always, Game 4 is the crux on which the entire series turns. A Montreal win tonight and the Bruins will be forced to win three straight.

But if Boston can even the series, everything changes. The Bruins will have handed Montreal its first home loss of the playoffs, evened the series at 2-2 and reclaimed home ice advantage.

But to do that, the Bruins have to be better.

Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is iclark@unionleader.com.


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