BOSTON – One would hope and expect that a team full of experienced, accomplished hockey players wouldn’t overlook a wobbly opponent.
One would hope an established team of champions wouldn’t fall into the same traps over and over again set before them by hockey gods constantly looking for ways to humble a potentially great hockey team.
The Bruins have already proven they’re fully capable of hockey greatness, and the regular season math said they were the NHL’s best team. It’s no stretch to say this season’s group could be the best edition yet produced by Claude Julien, Peter Chiarelli, Cam Neely and the rest of Boston’s talented management group, but it also hinges on what the Bruins do in the postseason.
A first round exit would be the epitome of inexcusable, of course, but it would also be a black mark against the Bruins if they can’t find a way to end the series against Detroit in the next couple of days. There’s no way things should get to a Game 7 scenario at this point, and the Bruins would do well to finish things quickly against the Wings with the Montreal Canadiens already sitting and waiting for the winner of the Boston/Detroit series.
The Bruins will get a shining chance to prove just how well they’ve learned their lessons when they suit up against the Detroit Red Wings for Game 5. They lead the series by a commanding 3-1 margin in the best-of-seven set of games, and Boston is coming off a rousing overtime road win that has their confidence riding high. It’s actually the exact same spot the Bruins were in during last year’s first round after a big Game 4 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
It certainly sounds like the Bruins don’t want to screw around with their advantage this time around, and aren’t interested in potentially opening the door for another cardiac attack Game 7 like last year against the Leafs.
“You get these opportunities, and sometimes it’s more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge. You kind of start thinking about the end score of the game before the game even starts. You kind of feel and hope that you get to do that,” said Tuukka Rask. “But I think we’ve learned over the years that it doesn’t help us. We just have to focus on our job, and the game itself. Then the results will take care of themselves. I hope we learned from the past years, and are ready for [Game 5].”
That would probably also require Milan Lucic to go supernova like he did in the third period of Game 7 last spring against Toronto. He’s clearly willing to do that if necessary, but all of the Bruins players would much rather take care of business against the Wings in Boston in five games.
“We were in this position last year when we won in Toronto, and it was the same thing. We won in overtime, and we know what happened after that,” said Lucic. “So we’re not taking anything for granted here. We all know how hard it is to close out a series, and we all know how desperate they’re going to be on Saturday.”
Memorably in that series the Bruins were labeled as “Jekyll and Hyde” by coach Claude Julien, and there was an element of inconsistency and untapped potential that dogged that group of players all year long. This season the Bruins have been consistently great, have never lost more than two games in a row all year, and have a veteran group that’s seen, done and heard it all before in the playoffs.
That kind of experience and confidence is exactly the kind of subtle difference-makers that separate the men and the boys come playoff time. The Bruins are one of only a handful of teams in NHL history to blow a 3-0 lead in a playoff series, they’re the only NHL team that’s ever won three Game 7’s en route to a Stanley Cup and they’ve both been upset, and done the upsetting in the postseason.
Those kinds of experiences harden some of the edges in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and make the Bruins keenly aware of what can happen against the Red Wings if they ease up on the trigger finger pointed at Detroit.
It’s killer instinct time, and this Bruins team has it when they need it. With Chris Kelly, Daniel Paille and Adam McQuaid all out of the lineup, the Bruins have just nine players from the Stanley Cup team in the lineup against the Red Wings for Saturday’s playoff matinee.
But that should be enough to get the deed done against Detroit. If that’s not enough then perhaps the memory of the Bruins losing both Denis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference for a potion of last year’s playoff run would do the trick. Both Seidenberg and Ference suffered those injuries in the last game of the Boston/Toronto series, and they probably would have remained healthy could the B’s have closed out the Maple Leafs in an efficient five games.
For a team like the Bruins, they will be a healthier hockey club if they can avoid playing extra playoff games.
“It’s one of the reasons why experience is relied upon so heavily in the playoffs, and is always talked about. In the playoffs you find yourself in a lot of uncomfortable positions, and it’s those experiences that you have to fall back on,” said Gregory Campbell, who has seen plenty in his four Stanley Cup playoff runs with the Black and Gold. “Most of us in this room have been through many playoff experiences, and we know there are a lot of ups and downs along the way.
“There are different adversities that you face, and it’s about finding solutions to those challenges as a team. If you’ve been through those different scenarios then it definitely helps. You have to learn from those past experiences, or you’re not growing as a team and as a player. Without having to remind ourselves too much about what happened last year [against Toronto], hopefully it’s in the back of our minds. We can be more prepared, and know that it’s not really over until you get that fourth [win].”
Lucic, Campbell, Rask, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Shawn Thornton, Johnny Boychuk and company all lived through last year’s near choke against the Maple Leafs, and remember how potentially devastating last year’s near playoff fold job would have been.
It’s that fear and those memories that keep the Bruins razor-sharp with an unmerciful edge in the playoff battle that’s historically tested a player’s mettle, and illustrated clearly what exactly anybody learned from last year’s playoff experience against the hapless Maple Leafs.