By Joe Haggerty
TAMPA It never fails that a hockey teams flawsare dutifully exposed once it comes to the playoffs.
Every nightmare, soft spot, Achilles heel, weakness and soft white underbelly was identified within the Boston Bruins, and then came crashing down all around them in the second period of Saturday afternoons 5-3 loss at the St. Pete Times Forum. The defeat leaves the Bruins and Bolts tied at 2-2 apiece in the best of seven conference finals.
The Bruins entered the middle 20 minutes of the game confidently nurturing a three-goal lead and it appeared Boston was about to wrap their gloved hand around the series.
The ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals would have been all but punched.
But instead it was the Bs that got punched in the headover and over again.
Patrice Bergeron is nothing if not a realist, and he wasnt pulling any of his uppercuts after watching the roof cave in on his team after building an all too familiar 3-0 advantage.
The fact it was certified Bruins Killer Simon Gagne just made it all the more eerily similar to the Black and Gold.
Youve got to clean your memory, but at the same time youve got to realize that youve got to execute and be better. That wasnt good enough out there today, said Patrice Bergeron, who actually was good enough in scoring a pair of goals and serving as the only Bs player to win more than 50 percent of his face-offs. But at the same time we cant feel sorry for ourselves. Its a long series and theyre a good team. But so are we. We need to go back what was giving us success.
We got on our heels, we stopped playing and we stopped fore-checking. It was a terrible second period and we have to be better. Going into the third period we were lucky that it was even.
It all started with the bugaboo thats been bugging the Bs all playoffs and really has been a big honking issue since the start of the season.
The Bruins are 4-for-52 on the power play in the postseason, and they managed only two shots while totally wasting two straight PP chances at the beginning of the pivotal second period.
The piggyback power plays on a roughing call to Steve Downie and a goaltender interference infraction on Simon Gagne handed Boston their chance to show off some killer instinct but the Bruins couldnt land that fourth goal that would have truly shut down the Lightning.
The Bs lost some momentum in the power play failures, but things didnt truly break down until Tim Thomas suffered a brain cramp amidst some heavy pressure from the Bolts. With both Ryan Malone and Steve Downie converging behind the net, Thomas played a puck and left it for Zdeno Chara to get immediately crunched as the Bs goalie scrambled back toward the crease.
That led immediately to a Teddy Purcell goal in front of the net, and then a minute later Purcell beat a frazzled Thomas high to his glove hand for his second score that all but erased Bostons lead.
That led to another longtime fly in the Boston ointment: the coaching.
Claude Julien does a lot of things well in creating a disciplined, stable hockey environment for players to thrive in, but the game quickens on him at the worst possible times.
That happened again in the second period following Purcells second goal when Julien had a chance to call timeout, gather his goaltender and players around him and allow them to settle everything back down.
Instead the momentum kept building for the Lightning and Julien did nothing to inject himself into proceedings as his team literally melted on the Florida ice. The two teams played on and Kaberles weak turnover two minutes later made it a tied hockey game while the reeling Bruins attempted to find their footing.
The Lightning tied the game in 3:58 of ice time and the Bruins were never the same again.
After they scored a few goals, we almost looked like we were paralyzed out there, said Julien. We just werent reacting, we werent moving and it just snowballed from there.
Certainly sounds like a good time for a little coaching tactic to break up that paralysis, didnt it Claude?
The final two goals highlighted another season-long boondoggle for the Bruins: the Kaberle disaster.
Bostons much-maligned defenseman followed up a pair of promising efforts with one of his worst of the season in only 11:35 of ice time. Kaberle was weak on the puck and a hockey lamb to the slaughter when Sean Bergenheim dislodged possession from him and pushed it past Thomas to tie the game.
Then Kaberle was part of the problem again on the game-winning goal. Both Thomas and the Bruins defenseman couldnt get on the same page following a brutal Milan Lucic turnover at the blue line that capped off a horrendous day for Bostons top forward group.
The goalie thought Kaberle would block anything at the bottom of the ice if a shot came through, but the Bruins defenseman didnt absorb any part of the Gagne bid that eventually slid right through Thomas pads for the difference-making score.
None of it should be all that surprising with Kaberle at this point.
Kaberle has been atrocious on the power play, and is now tied with a guy thats played only two playoff games (Shane Hnidy) for the fewest hits on the Bruins (one) this postseason a real indictment of how soft serve Kaberles game is during the hardened postseason.
On Gagnes shot I read that the D had low and I high, and he was able to get it through both of us, said Thomas, trying his best not to throw the embattled Kaberle under the Bs bus. It is what it is now. It wasnt on purpose, but they started playing the way they wanted to play and we didnt play the way we did in the first period or during Game Three.
The good news for the Bruins after this debacle had concluded: the series is only tied at 2-2 and the Bs again hold the home ice advantage in whats become a best-of-three match against the Bolts.
Thomas had a game to forget on Saturday afternoon, but he was brimming with Messier-esque confidence when asked how he sees the series eventually going after six or seven games.
Yeah. Were gonna win, said Thomas. I dont know how its going to be at any one point in time or any one game, but whats important is we come back in Game 5 and win that game.
Thomas cocksure bravado is admirable, but it better be flawless hockey the Bs goaltender has in mind if hes going to help carry his club where they want to go.