The response to last night’s Bruins loss is more disappointment than shock because, after all, we kind of saw this coming. From the moment the B’s let Game 5 slip away, history and common sense suggested that the Leafs would force a Game 7 back in Boston.
You could have predicted the plane trouble, too. Come on, you really think it’s a coincidence that Toronto’s opponent couldn’t get out of town on the night before the franchise’s biggest game in nine years? That’s the oldest trick in the book! Mark my words: It’s only a matter of time before we learn that the “plane trouble” was associated with two gigantic Leafs banners crammed inside the engine, or that the cockpit window was painted over with a coat of royal blue. It was an inside job. I’m sure of it. But as far as what will happen tonight, I don’t know how anyone can be sure of anything.
On one hand, the same common sense that had the Leafs winning Game 6 leaves you somewhat confident that the B’s will survive and advance. They’re the better team. They’re favored. They’ll be playing in front of their own psychotic fans. Not to mention, it wasn’t so long ago that these Bruins were the best team in the conference. You remember that 14-2-2 start, when they kicked off the year stronger than an old-school Al Iafrate slap shot and left no question as to which of Boston’s Big Four sports teams had the next best shot at a title.
Now, obviously, that was almost three months ago. Things can change. But not that much has changed for the B’s. They’ve stayed relatively healthy; they’ve even added a few new pieces. And while the home stretch was marred with their special brand of freak-out-inducing inconsistency, they were still good enough to build a 3-1 lead in this series. They were good enough that every ESPN “expert” picked them to win it beforehand. They’re still good enough. Obviously. And if Boston does emerge, then all the stress and commotion of these first six games will be forgotten.
The same way that the Knicks currently couldn’t care less about the Celtics' little run at the end of their first round series. The same way that, in 2011, the Bruins won Game 7 in the first round against Montreal (and in the third round against Tampa), and immediately moved on from all the drama. With a Boston win, the Leafs will quickly morph back into the also-rans they were last week, while the Bruins will graduate to the Capitals or Rangers; stronger and more confident for the experience.
Again, this is what should happen. That’s what (at the VERY least) the baseline of what this team should achieve. I mean, 15 of 21 guys with ice time in this series were there to raise the Cup in 2011. They’ve done this before.
Then again, they’ve also done that before.
Any holdover from the Stanley Cup season was also around for last year’s mess, when the B’s played the seventh-seeded Capitals to a 3-3 series tie and came back to Boston in the midst of all the same conversations that we’re having today.
“They’re the better team. This is a championship team with a championship core! They can’t lose a Game 7 at home!”
But they did. Not just the Bruins, but these Bruins. And at this point, there’s just no way to even guess which version will show up. We know what they need to do. We know who needs to do it. First of all, Tuukka Rask needs to stand on that fantastic head of hair and put this team on his back the way his predecessor did two years ago. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Mr. Tyler Seguin need to make an impact. They need to make things uncomfortable for James Reimer and somehow break the confidence that has him feeling like the best goalie in the series. Claude Julien needs to do something to get these guys going. Change up the lines. Whip up a nice little speech. Provide everyone on that roster with a pre-game dose of Adderall.
Of course, that begs the question: Why should Claude have to do anything? It’s Game 7!
But with this Bruins team, you just don’t know. You don’t know what to expect, or what it will take for them to play at a level that we know they have in them and that they’ll need to avoid a second straight playoff upset.
Right now, my gut says they’ll win. And maybe that’s more a testament to what I’m expecting from the crowd than it is to any overwhelming belief that these Bruins are closer to 2011’s champs than last year’s one-and-dones.
Still, I think these Bruins have at least one more round in them.
If not, I don’t think the Leafs should get out of Logan any sooner than Wednesday.