Bruins are facing realities of Game 7
For the past two weeks, the Bruins have been enmeshed in their own spellbinding reality series with the Montreal Canadiens. The final episode will be played out tonight in Game 7 at the FleetCenter and the question everyone wants answered is: Will it be more like "Survivor" or "Average Joe"?
When the Bruins were ahead, three games to one, in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup, the excitement around the team was building. It seemed as if everything they had worked for during the regular season -- the roster additions, the reliance on rookie goaltender Andrew Raycroft, and the big, powerful line of Joe Thornton, Mike Knuble, and Glen Murray -- was about to pay off in a major way.
Now, all their hopes for going any farther in the playoffs boil down to one game.
"I believe our players believe in what we have in our room," said coach Mike Sullivan. "We certainly do as a coaching staff. These guys have had success throughout the regular season because they believe in themselves. That's not going to change. We're not going to allow it to change. We have good players in our room, we have quality people in our room, and we believe we have guys who will respond."
But will they be able to? After winning Game 4 in double overtime at the Bell Centre, it seemed natural they would build on that momentum and finish off their division rival in Game 5. Instead, they turned in a dreadful performance and were beaten, 5-1, at home, forcing them back to Montreal.
On Saturday night, with the Canadiens' faithful fandom cheering them on at a deafening level, Montreal once again came out on top. Were the Bruins better than they had been? Yes. But they weren't good enough, and at this time of year, only winning matters.
You can tinker, experiment, develop, and rationalize all you want during the regular season. But if Boston can't pull this one off, which would be the first time in club history the team failed to win a series after leading, three games to one, the second-guessing will be louder than any bleu, blanc, and rouge crowd could imagine.
The biggest enigma of the series continues to be Thornton, who is becoming more and more like Pedro Martinez in his disdain for the media. Despite his leadership role, the team captain fled the building yesterday without comment.
However he's feeling -- mentally, physically, or emotionally -- he wasn't interested in sharing. He goes into Game 7 with no points in the first six games and hasn't appeared to be enjoying himself even remotely.
When asked if Thornton perhaps needed to be reminded amid the pressure to have fun, too, Sullivan said, "That's easier said than done. He's a guy who has a lot of expectations on himself. Let's be realistic, when it isn't going the right way for him, it's tough to have fun.
"But, obviously, one of the challenges when you're going through that type of an experience is you have to find a way to relax and play hockey and act on your instincts. That's something we're really trying to encourage Joe to do. He has great instincts, he's a tremendous player, and he's a guy who wants to be there for us and we believe he will and we're working every day with him to try to help him get there."
No one would argue that Thornton hasn't had physical ailments to deal with. He's been playing hurt, but he turned in a dominant performance in Game 4 despite his limitations. But when you're logging 20 minutes of ice time a game and you're the focal point of the power play, you have to score. The Bruins don't pay him to be a checking center.
"He has high expectations of himself and when the puck isn't going in the net for him, he certainly is a guy with a tremendous amount of pride and he wants to make that contribution in that regard," said Sullivan. "I'm sure he's disappointed, but he still has one game that he can be an impact and will be an impact and we believe he will.
"That's not to say he hasn't made contributions. He just hasn't made the contribution on the scoresheet where everybody expects him to make it and he expects himself to make it. We believe Joe will be there. He's been there all year for us. I'm sure he's a guy who's going to be looking forward to [tonight] because it gives him another opportunity."
How the game turns out will be the difference between screaming in celebration and screaming for people's heads. The Bruins are trying to insulate themselves from that assessment even though they know it's there.
"The scenario hasn't changed," said Sullivan. "The difference [is] we feel as though we have an opportunity in front of our home fans in our home building. From our standpoint, we've got to win a hockey game. We talk to a lot of our players on a daily basis. We know the players spoke this morning amongst themselves and we feel as though we have enough veterans on the team who have been around the league long enough to realize the focus we need to be successful in this type of environment.
"I believe we have a resilient group and I think our guys are obviously disappointed that we've let two games slip by us here. But I think our guys are really looking forward to the opportunity of Game 7."
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.