Ray Emery had sprinted off the ice. Vincent Lecavalier had rolled over the boards to join Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, and Mark Streit.
Late in Saturday’s third period, the Flyers were trailing, 4-2. They had pulled Emery, the goalie, and sent six men onto the TD Garden ice against the Bruins’ five. Zdeno Chara refused to see it as such.
“I approach it the same as five-on-five,” Chara said. “It’s really different than if you play it like a five-on-four. You have to play it as a five-on-five.”
On Saturday, the Bruins had nothing to play for — as they will for the four remaining games of the regular season. The No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, which the Bruins claimed with the 5-2 win over Philadelphia, was a formality. Winning the President’s Trophy for most points in the league would be a bonus.
But the game allowed the Bruins to practice a situation they most likely will face in the playoffs. They executed it perfectly.
In their 78 games, the Bruins have led 32 times after 40 minutes. They are 26-2-4 in such situations. They’ve scored 102 third-period goals while allowing only 52.
Assuming this trend continues, there’s a good chance they’ll be holding a lead late in the third in the playoffs. If so, the coaches have five players in mind for the critical six-on-five assignment: Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Chris Kelly, Patrice Bergeron, and Loui Eriksson.
Chara and Boychuk are the team’s strongest shutdown defensive duo. The coaches are wary of pairing them together for long stretches because of the concern of creating a top-heavy blue line. But for an end-of-game burst, Chara and Boychuk are the best defensive options.
Bergeron and Kelly get the nod because of their defensive awareness and faceoff abilities. Coach Claude Julien prefers to have right- and left-shot centers on the ice at the same time. Eriksson completes the unit because of his hockey sense, active stick, and strength on the puck.
They were on the ice for six-on-five play Saturday against the Flyers. Six days earlier, the same five also got the call to hold down a one-goal lead against the same team.
Their most recent performance had better results. Chara beat Lecavalier to a loose puck in the defensive zone. Chara connected with Eriksson across the ice. Eriksson gained center ice and fed Kelly at the offensive blue line. Kelly scored an empty-net goal to seal the win.
It didn’t go as well on March 30. Bergeron missed on a backhand clearing attempt. Kimmo Timonen poked the puck off Eriksson’s stick. When Timonen’s poke check sent the puck toward Boychuk, the defenseman whiffed with a wild backhand swing. Moments later, Lecavalier scored the tying goal with 24.1 seconds remaining in regulation. The Bruins won in the shootout, 4-3.
“That’s normal,” Boychuk said of the pride of being selected for six-on-five duty. “Except when it bounces over your stick.”
For the five players, it’s similar to killing a penalty. They are outnumbered.
But the extra bodies (two more than a standard five-on-four power play) make the situation more complex to read. There’s less space in the zone. The extra attacker is usually somewhere around the net. The usual PP formations — an umbrella with one point man, an overload at either half-wall — do not exist. Because of the danger of icing, the defenders can’t whip the puck out of the zone, even with the temptation of sinking it into an open net.
“Over the blue line,” Chara said of the mandate. “That’s the first priority. Get the puck out of the zone so they all have to come out.
“We can also regroup and put ourselves in a better position. If we can make a play, it’s obviously better to make a play. But because instead of 10 guys you have 11 guys, it makes a difference. There’s less room.”
Conditions are chaotic. The crowd is screaming. There’s usually about a minute left in the game. The desperation for the trailing team makes for hooks and holds and trips that might go uncalled.
For the team in the lead, it’s critical to stay calm and recognize its advantages: the score and the time. Teams down by a goal or two can’t afford to make perfect plays. They need goals. Fast.
“It’s giving them time by taking away all the options,” Boychuk said. “Because then they waste more time.”
Iginla, Miller travel
Neither Jarome Iginla (lower body) nor Kevan Miller (undisclosed) participated in Monday’s practice at TD Garden but both traveled with the team to Minnesota. It’s possible that one or both of the injured players could dress against the Wild Tuesday or the Jets Thursday. Both were out for Saturday’s win over the Flyers. Julien said both would play on Tuesday if it were a playoff game. Eriksson practiced in Iginla’s spot on the first line with Milan Lucic and David Krejci. Eriksson has played on the line in two of the last three games.
Rest is called for
All of the Bruins save for Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg traveled to Minnesota. But it’s likely that some of the veterans will not dress for at least one of the two road games. “We want to rest some players, which you’ll probably see in the next four here,” Julien said. “But we still have lots of goals.” . . . Jordan Caron has played in three straight games because of the absences of Iginla and Carl Soderberg. Caron was a healthy scratch for the previous nine. “He’s understood now that he’s come in here and has been tabbed, more or less, as the 13th forward,” Julien said. “So he understands the situation. What I’ve liked about him is that his attitude’s been great. He’s really worked hard in practice. He wants coaches to grab him afterward for extra so he can keep up with the rest of the team.”