Now that the dust has settled, what can we make of the Bruins' 2-0 loss to Montreal in the opening game of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series?
Well, a lot. And, in turn, not much at all.
The Bruins said it themselves after the game last night: they need to do a better job creating traffic in front of Carey Price, who doesn't handle traffic well. A good Carey Price sees shots and controls rebounds. A bad Carey Price does what the TD Garden faithful had gotten used to him doing in 2011: doesn't see the puck, lets all sorts of rebounds go and usually winds up getting the hook.
But it's much more than that. Sure, the Bruins outshot the Habs 31-21 on Thursday night, but it's hard to count any of those 31 shots as good chances, as Montreal did a great job of pushing the Bruins outside, getting in the shooting lanes and blocking what few good looks the Bruins had.
How do the Bruins fix that? For one thing, they need to come out faster and more aggressive. Thursday night they played with a lot of energy, but that energy didn't translate itself into chances - in fact, it came across as anxiety, when the Bruins made two huge mental errors that Brian Gionta turned into Montreal goals.
Montreal isn't a team that hits back when they're hit in the mouth, and the Bruins need to do just that - use the corners, use the boards, don't be afraid to use the body in neutral ice. But they need to be smart about it - they can't have interference penalties like the one Brad Marchand took in the second period Thursday night. But hitting won't be enough; they need to win the physical battles, take the puck away from Montreal and establish a net-front presence. Getting into the paint around the Montreal net will do two things: first, it will screen Price and give the Bruins better looks from the slot and the circle, and second, it will create rebound chances for the Black and Gold.
But what it will really do is frustrate Montreal. And that's what the Bruins need to be able to do now. They know that they can beat Montreal with their strength and they know that their goaltending should be better. They need guys like Marchand to get under the other team's skin and guys like Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic - and Shawn Thornton, if he's around - to back up their chirping. They need more from the first two lines; more offense, more physicality, perhaps most of all more minutes. And they need their captain and prized trade deadline pickup to act like they want it a little bit more.
Postgame Thursday night, the Canadiens' locker room was calm, confident, cool and collected. Price said the shutout win was "exactly how we would have written it on paper."
The Bruins, meanwhile, waxed about their frustrations - or, in captain Zdeno Chara's case, their lack thereof, a strong statement from a guy who broke his stick on the boards after putting a slapshot from 25 feet right into Price's chest in the second period and who took a careless roughing penalty late in the game with his team down 1-0. They also mentioned how it was/is "a long series" on numerous occasions.
Sure, it's a long series. Sure, the Bruins could get right back in it. Sure, they've been better on the road this season anyway (despite not having a win at the Bell Centre this year). Sure, if you have to go to Montreal with the series tied, you'd rather have won game two and have the momentum.
But while a lot went wrong for the Bruins Thursday night, they played with an energy throughout the game that had been missing from so many regular-season matches. They made two crucial mistakes but played even with or above Montreal the rest of the game - at least from 10 feet out and beyond. They got their playoff anxiety out of the way - four Bruins were playing in their first playoff game, after all.
So maybe they're alright. After all, they lost game one to Buffalo last year. But "maybe they're alright" doesn't change the fact that they've lost five straight playoff games, being held goal-less in 105:13 minutes of play and allowing six goals in that time.
Four games isn't a long series. Seven games is. Last night's Bruins didn't have any interest in going the distance. If they don't start playing like they do quickly, the only "long" the Black and Gold will have will be a long time to eat their words.