Milan Lucic wasn’t 15 minutes removed from celebrating an emotional overtime victory when he recalled what happened to the Boston Bruins against the Toronto Maple Leafs a year ago.
“We were in this position last year, same thing, winning Game 4 in overtime in Toronto and we all know what happened after that,” he said.
What looked like the Bruins coasting turned into a memorable series. Boston wound up advancing after the Leafs’ even-more-memorable Game 7 collapse, but it’s the lesson from letting it get that far that has the Bruins focused on trying to finish off the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.
Boston took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series with Detroit following a 3-2 overtime victory Thursday night.
“We all know how hard it is to close out a series and we all know how desperate they’re going to be heading into Saturday,” Lucic said. “You don’t want to do anything to give the other team life in a series.”
In the 2013 Eastern Conference quarter-finals, the Leafs got life thanks to a stellar performance from James Reimer and goals by Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur. No doubt Detroit could do the same thing in Game 5 at TD Garden if goalie Jonas Gustavsson catches lightning in a bottle and the same young Detroit players who led the club into the playoffs find some kind of scoring touch.
Through four games, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Riley Sheahan all have no points. Game 4 wasn’t a shining moment for any of them.
“I didn’t know if we had a lot of good players, especially our young guys,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “When I go through and look at ‘em I don’t go, ‘He had a great game, he had a great game.’ I don’t do that at all. They were dressed.”
Babcock conceded earlier in the day the playoffs are a difficult time of year and young players must “learn how to play” under this kind of pressure.
The Bruins are used to that. Even though Boston is getting contributions from young players like defencemen Dougie Hamilton and Torrey Krug and even forward Justin Florek, this core group has been through post-season wars and knows what to expect.
That includes now, being ahead in a series and able to remember how things fell apart against Toronto.
“You can’t really describe it with words. You just go out there and use those experiences,” centre David Krejci said. “It happens everything so fast out there. You’ve got to use what happened in the past and learn from it.”
Lucic, who brought up the Leafs series unprompted following Thursday night’s win, also pointed to blowing a series lead against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup final as something he and his teammates can’t forget.
“We’ve learned a lot of hard lessons in the past, like Toronto, and fortunately we were able to get out of that one and move on,” he said.
Brad Marchand knows from plenty of playoff experience that the Red Wings will be a desperate group Saturday afternoon. Detroit has captain Henrik Zetterberg back and nowhere to go but on to Game 6 or home for the off-season.
“We’re going into Boston to win one game,” Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall said. “That’s got to be our mindset: Clean up the areas that we have to clean up and just go for it. We’ve got nothing to lose.”
Pegged as favourites to come out of the Eastern Conference, the Bruins have everything to lose. They’re in an advantageous spot now, one victory away from facing the Montreal Canadiens in the Atlantic Division final and armed with the memory of last year.
“We’re not taking anything for granted here,” Lucic said. “We can talk about it all we want, but it’s going to show in our play.”