MONTREAL — You don’t poke the bear. You sure as hell don’t parade a bearskin outside the Bell Centre the way a few fans of the Montreal Canadiens did Monday night after a 4-0 victory over the Boston Bruins. You don’t sing this late in the third period, either: “Na, na, na, na. Na, na, na, na. Hey, hey, hey. Goodbye …”
Hello? Don’t you know this was Game 6 of this second-round playoff series, not Game 7? Don’t you know even this butt-kicking – in which the Habs looked fast and assertive, the Bruins slow and frustrated – still came down to inches and bounces? Don’t you know who the Habs are playing?
These are the Bruins. Game 7 is Wednesday night in Boston.
“We’ve been there before,” said Bruins center David Krejci. “Many times.”
This is the ninth time the Bruins have gone to a Game 7 in seven years. They have been there before too many times, maybe, and they don’t win all the time, either. They’re 4-4 in their past eight Game 7s. But they’re 4-1 in their past five, and they won’t be rattled – not by this loss, not by anything that comes their way Wednesday night.
The Bruins lost to the Canadiens in seven in the first round in 2008. They lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in seven in the second round in 2009. They lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in seven in the second round in 2010 – after blowing a 3-0 series lead and a 3-0 lead in Game 7.
Then came 2011. They went to overtime of Game 7 in the first round against the Habs. Had they lost – had a puck gone off a shin pad or a stick blade or something and slipped into the Boston net – they would have cemented their status as chokers. Coach Claude Julien would have been fired.
Nathan Horton scored on a deflection instead. The Bruins went on to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven in the Eastern Conference final and the Vancouver Canucks in seven in the Stanley Cup final, becoming the first team to win three seven-game series in one playoff run. As he celebrated on the ice that night, general manager Peter Chiarelli said the Bruins had learned from losing those Game 7s. “If you've got a strong group, they're going to get stronger,” he said, “and I've always felt we had a strong group."
The Bruins went to overtime of Game 7 in the first round against the Washington Capitals in 2012, and they lost. But they were still a strong group. They faced a three-goal deficit in Game 7 in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs last year, and winger Milan Lucic said he was thinking to himself: “Is this the end of this group here?” They stormed back and won in OT, and it was just another beginning. They went back to the Cup final.
They are still a strong group now.
“We’re confident,” Lucic said. “We’ve been a confident group all year long. We’ve played well in big games. This is the biggest one so far throughout this year. We’ve got to bring our best when we need it the most.”
The Bruins did not play well Monday night. They did not bring their best. Still, look at how they lost:
They gave up the first goal 2:11 into the first period, when a pass handcuffed Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller along the end boards and popped out in front. Lars Eller scored into an open net. Goaltender Tuukka Rask called it “a gift.”
They gave up the second goal 15:24 into the second, when Habs defenseman Nathan Beaulieu threw the puck ahead, Bruins winger Loui Eriksson tried to glove it and it bounced in such a way that it sprung Habs winger Max Pacioretty ahead of Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara. Rask thought Chara would dive to knock the puck away; Chara thought Rask would come out to play the puck. With Chara and Rask caught in between, Pacioretty put the puck between Rask’s pads.
“Gave them another gift,” Rask said, “and it just took all the life away from us.”
The Bruins gave up Thomas Vanek’s power-play goal soon after that and an empty-netter – off Vanek’s stick – in the third.
“That’s the way it goes, you know?” said Pacioretty, who had one goal in nine games entering the night. “I’m expected to put a tiny puck into a tiny net with everyone trying to take my head off while I’m doing it. You get a bounce, and it goes in, and you’re a god. You don’t get a bounce, if that puck ends up as an icing, people are wondering why I’m stretching the zone and critiquing me for it. The game’s just so funny like that, you know?”
The Bruins know. An inch here, a bounce there, and it could have been different both ways Monday night, as it could be most any night. We won’t even get into the crazy play in the third period, when the puck soared straight up like a pop fly, fell behind Habs goaltender Carey Price, hit the left post and spun like a flipped coin, dancing halfway across the goal line before David Desharnais desperately flopped on it and gloved it back into the crease. By then, the score was 3-0, and the Bruins’ plane had started its engines.
[Puck Daddy: Desharnais' goal-line save helps preserve shutout]
Rask got his paddle on a Brendan Gallagher shot in the first to keep it 1-0, and then Eriksson hit a crossbar. As good as Price has been, he has used his pipes in this series as much as anthem singers Ginette Reno and Rene Rancourt. In the second, Gallagher missed an open net on a rebound, and then Lucic missed an open net with the score still 1-0 and the Bruins sustaining ridiculous pressure after a power play.
“Just one of those plays that you get nine out of 10 times, and today was that one that you didn’t get,” Lucic said. “You get the same opportunity next game, you got to make sure you bury it.”
The game’s fickle nature is the danger for the Bruins. They won the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season team, and they have a chance to make the conference final for the third time in four years and win the Cup for the second time in four years – and it all depends on one game now.
They face all the pressure. Some of their guys aren’t going – Krejci, Brad Marchand, the vaunted fourth line – and the Canadiens can outskate them. Price could steal Game 7. P.K. Subban could shine in Game 7 the way he has most of this series. A mistake could screw up everything, or a bounce, or a call. More missed opportunities could add up to a huge missed opportunity.
But they will be at home, literally and figuratively. You better not mount that bearskin on the wall just yet.
“We’ve been through it,” Rask said, “so I’ve got no doubts in my mind we can get it done.”
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