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Game Three: Regular season deja vu and an ode to center

May 20, 2011

Patrice Bergeron returned ready and raring to go last night. 

The Bruins won a clean, solid game last night that far more resembled their regular season efforts than anything that has occurred in this post-season thus far. In some respects, that is the most reassuring sign yet: the Bruins are dictating the nature of play and playing to their strengths. Moreover, while they are playing to their strengths, they continued to thrive offensively despite holding the lead (a slight change from the regular season, wherein they’d hang low defensively). Overall, it was a great effort bolstering by more outstanding goaltending from Tim Thomas. A shutout for Thomas? About as normal as it gets for the 201o-2011 season.

Patrice Bergeron returned, in full-form. Winning face-offs, but even more importantly, playing physically and digging pucks out of corners. The Bruins desperately missed him in games one and two because they not only lacked puck possession, but there was no one quite like him who could quickly, effectively retrieve pucks. David Krejci looked outstanding, save for a brutal (but likely clean) hit from Marc-Andre Bergeron. Krejci is a playoff performer. Period. He has the timing, the skill, the mental capacity, to do most anything with the puck around the net. He just gets it in, plain and simple. He is wiry and flexible enough to get his body where it needs to be when his linemates dish him the puck. Tyler Seguin played decently and had a few good chances, but the Lightning have certainly keyed in on him. Kelly had a great game, too.

Once more, the Bruins are proving their fate lives and dies by their centers. For a couple of seasons now, it’s been all about the centers. Maybe it’s the defensive brand of hockey that Julien is a proponent of–having two-way forwards, as centers typically are, is essential. Maybe it’s just the players they’ve just happened to have luck in drafting or trading for. But the center position continues to define the team unlike any other, save for Thomas’s performance this year. Boston’s forwards are not necessarily the fastest, not necessarily the most skilled, but they are the best at doing nearly everything. Renaissance Men. What they are is the smartest, most heady kinds of centers, in the entire NHL. That’s good drafting. Bergeron, Krejci and Seguin (though still not a bona fide center) are some of the most intelligent players in the league. Look at Seguin’s second goal in game two. Horton picked up the puck on the boards, as Seguin bounded forward. Instead of taking the puck there, Seguin swung right. Why? To avoid going off-sides and widen the gap between himself and the sole Tampa defender. That tiny move there, not going off-sides, enabled him to score a goal. The way he did that, swinging wide, increasing the angle and thus increasing the amount of time and distanced required and thus allowing him to remain ON-SIDES was critical. Little things. That’s what Boston has. Krejci’s backhander match with Roloson, Bergeron’s digging out pucks. That’s what it’s about.

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