Some quick points to ponder ahead of tonight’s playoff action in Montreal and Los Angeles:
Bruins at Canadiens (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS)
• While Tyler Seguin sits at home wondering what happened to his magic hands in the playoffs, the Boston Bruins will ice three of the players they acquired in exchange for the young star when they take on the Canadiens tonight in Game 4. Matt Fraser joins Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith after he was called up this morning from AHL Providence. He’ll replace Justin Florek, the hulking but offensively limited winger the Bruins selected 12 picks ahead of Brandon Gallagher (Doh!) in the 2010 NHL Draft.
The question now is, how will Fraser be used? During this morning’s skate, he was slotted alongside Jordan Caron and Shawn Thornton on the fourth line, but he could see time with Loui Eriksson and Carl Soderberg on the third, with Daniel Paille dropping down. That trio has performed well so far, at least in terms of puck possession–Eriksson has a 66 percent Corsi rating at five-on-five in the series, while Soderberg is at 65 percent. But while they’re keeping the puck hemmed in the Montreal zone, they’re not finishing their chances. That’s where Fraser, who had three goals and five points in five playoff games with the Wanna-B’s, might be of some value. On the other hand, the Merlot line has been curiously inconsistent throughout the postseason. An injection of some fresh legs with some scoring touch might help get them back on track.
• I can’t help but think this is a series that Jarome Iginla will take to his grave if the B’s don’t pull it out. It might not eat away at him quite like Calgary’s seven-game loss to Tampa Bay in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, but he probably had a sense back then that there was still plenty of time to get his name on the mug. There’s no way he’s feeling that security now. Iginla has to know that this could be his last chance for a ring. So where’s the urgency? He scored a late goal in Game 3 on the deflection of an Andrei Meszaros point blast, but that was his only shot on net in the contest, matching his total from Game 2. He’s been ineffective because he’s chasing the puck instead of winning the battles and daring Montreal’s overmatched defense to stop him. Iginla has more to give…but he’s running out of time to give it.
• The Canadiens have ridden some Johnny-on-the-spot hockey to a 2-1 series lead, but will opportunism be enough to propel them into the second round? I don’t think so. There’s an old hockey saying that goes, “It isn’t how, but how many” and Montreal has managed just fine on that count by converting Boston’s defensive errors into goals. But they haven’t been able to create much on their own, either on the rush or by establishing a cycle down low. That should be a concern for coach Michel Therrien. While the B’s have been loosey-goosey with their coverage at times in this series, the larger sample suggests they will get things locked down defensively. If Boston evens it up tonight with Game 5 at home on Saturday, the pressure falls squarely on Montreal’s forwards to start carrying their own water.
Ducks at Kings (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS)
• The Ducks will be looking to do something in Los Angeles that they couldn’t at home: put a serious dent in Jonathan Quick’s armor. Anaheim scored just three goals while losing the first two games. The reason? Quick is stopping everything he sees and the Kings D is doing a terrific job of eliminating second and third chances by tying up bodies and forcing rebounds to the safe areas.
The key for the Ducks tonight will be creating quick zone entries–something the San Jose Sharks did so effectively in the first three games of their opening round series. Nick Palmieri might help there. The young forward has been recalled from the press box and is expected to get his first chance to play since Game 4 of the Dallas series. He has quick feet, some decent hands (14 goals this season, a career high) and isn’t afraid to go to the net.
• It’s pretty clear that the Ducks want to take every opportunity to inflict a little pain on Drew Doughty whenever the officials are looking the other way. Don’t expect them to get away with as much tonight, though. There were a couple of blatant cheap shots administered in Game 2 that were flat out missed on the ice, but they were surely caught by the series supervisor. All eyes will be on Doughty tonight to ensure there’s no further embarrassment.
• Sure, Ducks blueliner Ben Lovejoy was burned badly on Marian Gaborik’s opening goal the other night, but he continues to be one of the nice surprises of these playoffs. His game doesn’t jump out at you, but there’s a steadiness to it that becomes obvious with repeated viewings. He’s found a comfortable fit alongside Cam Fowler on the de facto first pairing for Anaheim, and has nicely matured into a shutdown role. Not a bad return for the fifth-rounder they shipped to Pittsburgh for him last year.