TORONTO – All season long the Boston Bruins have searched high and low to try and find their “hard to play against” identity, and all season long they've only found it in fits and starts.
So it’s fitting the Bruins built up a 3-1 lead in their playoff series against a beatable Toronto Maple Leafs team, and now find themselves staring down the barrel of a Game 7 scenario after losing both Games 5 and 6. The latest setback was a 2-1 loss to the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre Sunday night when a couple of mistakes in the third period sealed Boston’s fate, and their offense didn’t produce until Milan Lucic scored a goal 59:34 into the contest.
It wasn’t a good enough effort from the Bruins in a potential elimination game. The Leafs out-hit the Bruins (58-50), blocked more shots (20-17) and took more pucks away (17-5) while winning all of the effort categories in Sunday night’s game.
Bruins coach Claude Julien has watched many such “efforts” from his team this year just like the one in Game 6, and isn’t any more amused now than he was in March.
“As I said to our players after the game, we’ve been a Jekyll-and-Hyde hockey team all year, and that’s what you’re seeing right now,” said Julien, who has been up in arms after games this season many more times than in years past. “I think it’s important for us to being the good Bruins team to the table for Game 7.”
Perhaps no group of players embodies the “Jekyll-and-Hyde” moniker more than Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin. After carrying the team for most of the regular season, they have hit a rough patch offensively against the Maple Leafs while also doing very little to impact the game in other two zones.
Bergeron is still giving maximum effort every night, and had the best scoring chances for the Bruins. But it was more of the same underachieving, uninterested, disengaged hockey from Marchand and Seguin, who could be difference-makers for better or for worse against Toronto. The duo combined for four shots on net, but weren’t playing with anything approaching the kind of commitment needed from two of the team’s best players.
For the second straight game Marchand appeared to be having skate troubles, and twice had to leave the ice early to get his blades checked out.
When he was on the ice, the irritating Little Ball of Hate was nowhere to be found. There was little fearlessness or fight in his game, and no speed in his game with the puck on his stick. Instead of backchecking there were weak attempts to appear like he was playing defense, and cheating attempts to speed out of the defensive zone before possession had truly been won.
As far as Seguin goes, it was the same old story for the speedy winger as well. He continues to try to use skating speed and raw athleticism against defenders without any other means of attacking them. There is no creativity and little hockey sense when the puck is on No. 19’s stick. He missed a waiting Zdeno Chara in the slot in Game 6, and failed to convert any kind of quality scoring chance when leading a 3-on-2 rush in the second period with a wide-open Marchand on the right wing.
Instead, Seguin missed high and wide with a shot, and that failed execution immediately sent the puck moving back in Boston’s direction.
Couple that with a third line that’s still not producing as well, and a player in Jaromir Jagr that seems to be giving up on working with linemates Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley in the offensive end. There weren’t many passes coming from the future Hall of Famer once he was carrying the puck in the attack zone.
Instead Jagr is trying to simply power to the net all by himself, and then watch helplessly as multiple defenders converge on him and take the off from his stick.
So one has to wonder if now Julien will finally start switching up his lines, and perhaps swap Jagr and Seguin in order to spark the lines. It’s clear the status quo isn’t working for a Bruins team that’s scored one goal in each of the last two games, and a newly confident James Reimer has stopped 97 percent of the shots he’s faced in the Toronto net over the last two playoff games.
Julien was asked about potentially switching the lines following the Game 6 loss, and he said he would “have no comment on my lines.”
Bergeron said the Bruins can’t get frustrated by the way things have dried up at the worst possible time in the postseason.
“The bottom line is that we need to find a way to get the puck to go in,” said Bergeron. “Being frustrated right now isn’t going to help. It’s about being determined to find ways to put it in, and it’s all about [Game 7] now.”
It wasn't just the forwards, however. Chara also inexplicably passed up a slap shot in the final seconds of the third period down a goal, and the Bruins never got another crack at the net in a one-goal loss.
The Bruins have tossed around buzz words like “determination”, “urgency” and “desperation” in the last few days before going out and showing the exact opposite in Stanley Cup playoff games. At this point it’s about action rather than spouting clichés and playoff rhetoric that become so much white noise from a team that appears full steam ahead for a troubling end to their season.
Given their body of work this season, nobody knows if it will be the Good Bruins or Bad Bruins that show up for a winner-take-all Game 7 scenario at TD Garden on Monday night. But if it is indeed the “Bad Bruins” in their final disappointing display, it will be also probably the last time we see this particular collection of B’s players all wearing Black and Gold jerseys.
Such is life when a talented hockey club wins the Stanley Cup, and then drops out in the first round of the playoffs for the following two seasons in extremely disappointing fashion.