Bruins stirring first round has familiar look

Bruins stirring first round has familiar look
May 15, 2013, 12:45 am
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Don’t blame the Bruins players, front office and coaching staff if they experienced Stanley Cup flashbacks when Patrice Bergeron hammered a loose puck past James Reimer for Monday night’s unlikely Game 7 OT winner.

After all it was so very similar to their equally dramatic triumph over the Montreal Canadiens in seven stressful games two years ago.

In both first round series, there was much more than simple wins and losses on the line in the best-of-seven series, and there appeared to be the very same equal-parts-relief-and-delight look on the faces of the Boston coaching staff after it was finally over.

That buoyant vibe was a far cry from 24 hours earlier in Toronto, when the long looks on the Bruins coaching staff’s faces told the story as they hustled through the Air Canada Centre visiting dressing room following a brief closed door meeting with general manager Peter Chiarelli.

It’s assumed they weren’t talking about postgame dinner plans in Mississauga due to the faulty gyroscope on “Bear Force One.”   

Milan Lucic was disarmingly honest after Monday night’s Game 7, and admitted the thoughts that crept into his mind when it looked like things were lost: “You start thinking to yourself, ‘Is this the end of this group here?’ Because it probably would have been if we didn’t win this game.”

That’s the same kind of urgency Julien and Co. felt when they knew that their jobs were in danger if they suffered a first round misfire two years ago against the Montreal Canadiens. The difference for the Bruins: this time a select group of players were probably experiencing real unease about their futures in Boston for the first time in their careers.

That sense is reflected in what Lucic talked about answering the first question out of the shoot following Monday night’s Game 7 victory, and many players nodded their head in agreement when asked about the gravity of getting results in the first round.  

This was about more than deciding to simply not re-sign unrestricted free agents like Andrew Ference and Nathan Horton. Core members of the Black and Gold might have been wondering if they would have been shopped had they gone one-and-out two seasons in a row. Watching that kind of playoff utility unfold after nearly every player was rewarded with multi-year, big dollar contracts wouldn’t sit well with Boston management or ownership.

Once the payroll goes up for a Bruins nucleus that’s won the Stanley Cup, so do the expectations from the group making the yeah or nay decisions on Causeway Street.

“When you have an organization, and I think everybody around here feels it and they certainly do internally, we’re looking to put teams on the ice that are going to compete for championships,” said Bruins President Cam Neely on the Felger and Mazz Show on 98.5 the Sports Hub Tuesday afternoon. “That’s why we have the payroll we have, and we have the ability to spend up to the cap. That’s what ownership has allowed us to do, so we’re not satisfied by just making the playoffs, or being one round and done.

“We’ve set that standard internally, and I think people outside the organization know that’s what we’re looking to try and accomplish. The guys also have their own ideas of what is expected because it’s pretty clear to our players.”

But above and beyond the ramifications, win or lose, in the first round, the series itself was the exact same roller coaster ride of emotion and momentum against the Leafs as it was against the Habs.

It was reversed, of course, as the Bruins faltered early before gathering strength against Montreal following an unusual Lake Placid trip that ultimately became a turning point in the series.

This time around a bum airplane and a team-bonding dinner in the suburbs of Toronto, along with a Sunday night stay at a Toronto airport hotel that clearly isn’t quite the five star lap of luxury NHL players are accustomed to, left the players with the same healthy sense of detachment from a crappy, pressure-packed situation.

The Bruins front office has been steadfast in their claims they fully planned to return to Boston in the wee hours of the morning after Sunday’s Game 6 loss, but the gyroscope incident turned out to be a blessed case of serendipity.

“It’s the perfect storm,” said Chiarelli. “But maybe, looking back, we had a good night’s sleep because of it. It didn’t feel good at the time.”

For his part, Chiarelli wasn’t hearkening back to the dramatic overtime win in Game 7 against the Canadiens after Bergeron played the hero on Monday night. The similarities and parallels are there but perhaps not for somebody so close to the situation that pulling back for a longer perspective isn’t possible in the middle of it.

Instead the B’s GM was contemplating all of the Game 7’s the Bruins have played in over the last six seasons: eight of the 11 playoff series under Claude Julien have gone the full distance of seven games.

“Six of our last eight series have been game sevens, so it’s all a blur," said Chiarelli. "It’s all a blur for me. All of these series are important, and when it’s in a Game 7 it’s a real risky venture because anything can happen. It’s hard to recover because there are no games left. As a building block, I think you could really look on what these guys did during the last bit in the third period and overtime as a building block. You hope that they seize it and play with it.

“My belief is that playoffs are about momentum. I know people say that they’re not, but you can get what I call ‘mojo.’ You can get it, and you can carry it and have it . . . that’s how you get on a roll. You see these teams, us included a couple years ago, you see them just start rolling and I would hope they would be able to learn from that.”

Mojo is certainly one of those things that’s difficult to define, but one knows it when they see it in the game of hockey. The Bruins Stanley Cup team of two years ago clearly had it at the right time.

Just as the Chris Kelly/Michael Ryder/Rich Peverley line carried the Bruins offensively in that first round series against the Canadiens, the scoring line of David Krejci/Milan Lucic/Nathan Horton accounted for 11 of Boston’s 22 goals scored against the Maple Leafs in the first round. Just as the team’s leading scorer in Milan Lucic went without a goal in the first round against Montreal, this season’s leading scorer in Brad Marchand similarly never lit the lamp against the Leafs.

The Bruins never uncovered that one effective scoring line last season against the Washington Capitals in their first round exit. Following that failed playoff bid, Chiarelli lamented his hockey club could have been capable of much more if they just escaped their first round fate.

Now, the Bruins will get that Black and Golden chance to prove Chiarelli’s “mojo” thesis in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and follow that same two-year old script after narrowly capturing an emotional seven-game playoff series against one of their Original Six divisional rivals.

It won’t be easy, but with mojo and ample playoff experience on the Bruins’ side anything could be possible.