For the first time in this NHL playoff series, it is the Boston Bruins that are feeling the pressure, not the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Now, despite a furious finish in the third period of the Leafs’ 2-1 win Friday night, it is the Bruins’ head coach who is questioning some of his best players. It is the Bruins players who are now getting those “Can you” questions, as in can you find a way to get around Leafs goaltender James Reimer, can you find a way to combat the Leafs’ speed and can you find the energy to play on back-to-back nights if necessary to close out this series?
The latter question is why the Bruins desperately wanted to finish off the Leafs on Friday night. They held a 3-1 series lead and did not want to face the schedule for the remainder of the series, which has them playing Game 6 in Toronto on Sunday night with the seventh and deciding game back in Boston the next night if the Leafs win again.
Thanks to the vagaries of a lockout-shortened regular-season schedule, and a postponed game due to the Boston Marathon bombing, the Bruins have played 11 games in the last 19 nights. The last five of those games were this playoff series, an exciting, entertaining affair that is being played at breakneck speed.
But even before that, the Bruins’ regular-season schedule was lopsided, leaving them to cram 19 games into the last 37 nights, including the playoffs. Despite having two days off at the end of the regular season, and two off days after Game 1 of their series with the Leafs, the Bruins are a team in need of a break.
“Now,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said after Friday’s game, “we have to lick our wounds and get ready for the next game.”
But now the questions that didn’t seem so urgent with a 3-1 series lead are getting urgent. Like when is the No. 1 line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin going to start contributing some scoring instead of leaving it up to David Krejci’s line? Bergeron has a power-play goal and Marchand has a couple of assists and that’s about it. Julien said it’s pretty obvious the Bruins need a contribution from that unit.
“We do. I’ll leave it at that, we do,” he said. “They know we do. That has to come for us to be successful, starting next game.
“It’s something that’s called accountability, and we have to have more of that from that line as far as being a difference-maker or at least something positive. They’ve got to give us that.”
The Bruins could reassure everyone that they like to take the hard way. In 2011 when they won the Stanley Cup, the Bruins let three of their four playoff series go to seven games. In 2010, they took a 3-0 series lead on the Philadelphia Flyers and then blew it, losing the seventh and deciding game on a power-play goal after taking a 3-0 lead in the first half of the game. That has been cited as a valuable learning experience but it can also be held up as a troubling tendency, especially when it’s noted the Bruins bowed out in the first round a year ago after letting the Washington Capitals get them to Game 7.
Now the Bruins have to reign in a young speedy Leaf team that does not match up to them in talent but just received a giant shot of confidence on Friday night. They will be flying in front of their own fans at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday night. This does not guarantee success, of course, as this series shows, but it doesn’t make anything easy for the Bruins.
“Every once in a while the hockey gods will take care of people who deserve it,” Julien said. “This is something we have to take the blame for. It’s our own doing.”
It still isn’t known if the Bruins will have defenceman Wade Redden back for Sunday night’s game but he skated in Saturday’s optional practice. Redden sustained an undisclosed injury in Game 4.