The Boston Bruins regained home-ice disadvantage in the NHL playoffs.
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That’s right, disadvantage.
The home team has lost all four games in the series with the Montreal Canadiens, so the Bruins can’t rely on their seventh player — the black-and-gold clad crowd — in Saturday night’s fifth game with the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series tied at 2.
”We’ve just got to keep getting better and not worry about where we’re playing,” coach Claude Julien said Friday, ”but how we’re playing.”
The raucous fans at the Bell Centre couldn’t shake the Bruins focus when they overcame deficits of 1-0, 3-1 and 4-3 to even the series with a 5-4 overtime win on Thursday night. They sent those partisans home disappointed, knowing the Canadiens wasted a chance to take command of the series.
Back home, the Bruins want their fans to savor a win — even if it’s not filled with end-to-end rushes and highlight-reel goals.
”There is a tendency when you’re at home to try to put on a show for the home crowd,” Boston goalie Tim Thomas said, ”but sometimes that works against you over the course of a full 60 minutes.”
The key for the Bruins is to trust their game plan even if they’re behind. That’s what they did Thursday night.
”Throughout the season, we’ve had some games where we’ve learned that getting away from it doesn’t help,” Shawn Thornton said. ”The discipline through all 20 guys, and the coaching staff really emphasizing that you don’t need to go out and do something all on your own, just stick with it, stick with it, and it ended up paying off.”
No matter where you’re playing.
In the past two years in the playoffs, the home team was 52-35 in 2009 and 46-43 in 2010.
This year, the road team has the edge — 19-14 through Thursday night.
”It seems both teams want the road advantage now,” Montreal goalie Carey Price said with a smile. ”As a team, when you go into an opposing rink it’s a lot easier to keep your game simple because you don’t need to try and impress anybody or anything.”
Now that he’s home, it’s highly unlikely that Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference will be making obscene gestures to the crowd. He made an obscene gesture to fans on Thursday night after his goal to cut the Canadiens lead to 3-2 midway through the second period.
It cost him $2,500, the fine assessed by the NHL on Friday, but no suspension.
”I was pumping my fist,” Ference said Friday. ”I’m not giving anybody the bird or anything like that. (It was) an unintentional bird that I obviously apologized for. It wasn’t meant to insult anybody, especially a whole row of cameras in the Bell Centre and the fans sitting there.”
And so Boston erased a 3-1 deficit — ”We just believed,” captain Zdeno Chara said — and now it’s a best-of-three series between the third-seeded Bruins and sixth-seeded Canadiens.
”Every play, every mistake can be a difference,” Montreal’s Mathieu Darche said.
After their 4-2 win on Monday night, the Bruins practiced in Lake Placid, N.Y., rather than in enemy territory in Montreal.
”It did help to get out of Montreal and just relax and kind of get out of the media maelstrom,” Thomas said.
It might not have helped on Thursday if the Canadiens hadn’t turned the puck over so much in the neutral zone or made a poor change of defensemen that gave the Bruins a 3-on-1 on Michael Ryder’s winning goal at 1:59 of overtime.
”We’ve got to do a better job of picking up our coverages around the net,” Montreal’s Brian Gionta said.
Despite the high score, both goalies made key saves to force overtime.
Price stopped 30 of 35 shots and Thomas turned back 34 of 38.
”Winning in the playoffs in overtime, there’s no greater feeling really,” said Thomas, who was named Friday as one of three Vezina Trophy finalists, along with Roberto Luongo of Vancouver and Pekka Rinne of Nashville.
But Thomas and Price have a more immediate concern, taking a step toward the Stanley Cup.
”Obviously I’m not happy with (Thursday’s) result,” Price said. ”Who would be? Five goals. But I felt good about my game. I played the game probably four times in my head (Thursday) night. I wouldn’t have changed a whole lot.”
Here’s one change that might help him – playing in a hostile road arena.
After all, the Canadiens won the first two games of the series with Bruins fans booing them.
”You like your chances at home, no matter what,” Gionta said, even though the road team is unbeaten, ”but the way this series has played out, that’s how it’s been and, hopefully, we can keep that trend going.”