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Series evened, Bruins have another chance

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  April 22, 2011 07:55 AM

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For the Bruins, this was the game they might someday look back upon, just as we all do now on Game 6 in 2008. That was the game to bring hockey back to Boston, to revive a Bruins organization desperately in need of a jumpstart. That was the game which told us the Bruins organization was alive.

And so now the Bruins are alive again, albeit in the far more immediate sense, this developing epic against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the NHL playoffs. There is still so much more hockey to be played. Faced with a 3-1 deficit on the ice and a looming 3-1 deficit in the series, the Bruins got back on their skates and rallied for a pulsating overtime victory in Game 4 last night, the enigmatic Michael Ryder squaring all debts with Montreal by calmly flipping the puck over a sprawling Carey Price just 1:59 into sudden death.

The final score of this game, like the one three years ago in Boston was 5-4. And so the only question now is whether the Bruins can elevate themselves to higher ground by finishing the job this time against these Canadiens.

In the bigger picture, let’s all remember that this is merely the first round. The series is now just tied. After dropping Games 1 and 2 of this series in rather inglorious fashion, the Bruins have now only pulled even. When you are a team like Boston, this is how the NHL playoffs work. One contest can quickly undo much of what you already have accomplished, and so, as Patrice Bergeron recently reminded us, the most important game is the next one. The Bruins must capture Game 5.

Of course, this demands the question:

Should the Bruins consider wearing white tomorrow night at the TD Garden, so at least they might think they are on the road?

Heavens, what a series this is developing into.

For the moment, let us appreciate what the Bruins accomplished this week, no insignificant task given the plight they faced just days ago, given the opponent, given the venue. In their considerable and more recently torturous history, the Bruins have never won a series in which they lost the first two games. Montreal has haunted them forever. When Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn scored a mere 55 seconds apart in the second period last night to give the Canadiens a 3-1 lead, the Bruins were indisputably unraveling, their season crumbling beneath the weight of the Canadiens, their bloodthirsty fans, and nauseating history at the Bell Center.

Too many men on the ice? No, no, no. For so much of their history in Montreal, the Bruins had too few.

And then, an extraordinary thing happened. The Bruins scored 2 minutes, 12 seconds later. And then they scored again with 2:56 remaining in the period. Over the course of the night, the Bruins defiantly erased one deficit after the next – 1-0, 3-1 and 4-3 – posting their only lead of the game when the maddening Ryder coolly pierced the net to conclude an individual and team performance describable in only one way.

Top shelf.

Good for the Bruins for fighting back. Good for the Bruins for showing us that they are indeed resilient, hard-working, driven. Good for them for showing us that they can blow a 3-0 lead to the Philadelphia Flyers last spring and extend their postseason losing streak to six, then awaken to win a pair of games on the road, in Montreal of all places, to further emphasize that there is nothing quite like NHL playoff hockey and that stories develop, change, surprise over the entirety of a series.

“I hope people feel like they got their money’s worth,” goalie Tim Thomas told reporters after Game 4. “It took two years off my life.”

Nonetheless, it assured that there will be at least two more games to this Bruins season.

Of course, therein lies the rub. More so than any other sport in the postseason, hockey toys with the emotions. The losses are often devastating. The wins, particularly in overtime, are incomparably exhilarating. Today, following Games 3 and 4, there is the feeling that the Bruins now control this series, a dangerous assertion for any team to make.

Just a few days ago, after all, this looked like a possible sweep for the Canadiens, one of the best home teams in hockey. Now it’s a dead heat again. As much as it feels like the Bruins have momentum, Boston and Montreal are now standing shoulder to shoulder, two games apiece, a reality that will crystallize the moment the puck is dropped for must-see Game 5.

A best-of-7 series has been whittled to a best-of-3, and a not a single team has won its home ice. Two of the final three games are in Boston. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Three years ago, when the Bruins stunned the Canadiens in Game 5 at Montreal and then returned home for epic Game 6, the Bruins were an organization with relatively little at stake. They were a No. 8 seed with no title aspirations. Every game in the spring was seen as a long-term building block. The subsequent, inspiring victory in Game 6 made us all stand up and take notice – something was indeed brewin’ on Causeway Street – and even a lopsided defeat in Game 7 could not stop many of us from coming back the following autumn, convinced that the Bruins were on the rise.

Now, here we are three years later, and we really are still waiting for the Bruins to take the next step in their development. Even a comeback victory in this series will not do the trick. The Bruins have invested in this team to commendable degrees, both in terms of payroll and deadline acquisitions, and coach Claude Julien’s job may very well be at stake. They have not won a championship in 39 years. And yet, despite all of that pressure and a 2-0 series deficit at the start of the week, the Bruins are fighting again, drawing us in, starting to make us wonder whether, this year, they are truly different.

Enjoy the aftermath of Game 4. Game 5 is rapidly approaching. And while there is simply no way of knowing where this Bruins team is headed just yet, the Bruins accomplished perhaps the most difficult part of the journey last night in Game 4.

They gave themselves another chance.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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