These stakes have Bruins salivating
They sound hungry with Game 7 on menu
WILMINGTON — Sometime before the puck drops at TD Garden tonight, Claude Julien will likely enter the home dressing room and deliver what he hopes will be his most stirring speech of 2009-10.
“There are times you really feel your team is ready and it’s better off to say less,’’ the Bruins coach said after yesterday’s tuneup at Ristuccia Arena. “Other times, you look around and say, ‘Maybe you just need that extra little motivation.’ So you’ve got to pull out your best speeches.
“Throughout the course of a season, you really do save those, because you want them to have some sort of an impact. I really feel our team is ready for the challenge. I sensed it today. We understand the meaning of it. Win or go home. Simple as that.’’
In three straight games, the Bruins have blown tires in their attempts to advance to the Eastern Conference finals. Tonight, they are down to their last spare.
With one more loss to the Flyers, the Bruins not only will have their season come to a close, they will also enter the NHL record book as only the third team to gag up a 3-0 lead and lose a playoff series. It is company they have no desire to join.
“It’s going to be a big game, probably for most of us, the biggest game of our careers,’’ said Zdeno Chara. “We just have to enjoy it.
“Everybody’s different. Everybody’s treating it differently. Some guys get nervous. Some guys are very excited to be in that position. Everybody’s feeling different.’’
The stakes couldn’t be higher. The chance to close out a series. The chance for redemption after three straight losses to a Flyers club that’s quite familiar with desperation, having qualified for the playoffs in a shootout in Game No. 82. The chance to set up a Round 3 showdown against their most hated rivals, the Canadiens. The chance to enjoy home-ice advantage against a No. 8 seed, albeit one that dispatched Pittsburgh and Washington with Game 7 road wins.
“It’s a big opportunity to get to the conference finals,’’ said Patrice Bergeron. “We’re looking at it as one game, a huge game in front of our fans. We just need to bring all of our energy and be ready for the next game.’’
It’s a tall task for a Bruins club wavering on the edge of an inglorious fold. They could stomach a Game 4 overtime loss in which they battled hard, stood up to the Flyers’ best punches, and gave out only after Chara made a cough-up that led to a Simon Gagne goal.
But the losing taste was far more bitter after a no-show 4-0 embarrassment in Game 5 at the Garden, followed by 15 more minutes of zero-resistance hockey in Game 6 that led to a 2-1 setback at the Wachovia Center.
In the second half of Game 6, the Bruins finally started winning puck battles to stave off Philadelphia’s wave-after-wave attack. But if the Bruins submit any more passive play tonight, especially early, they could be showered with items far worse than the spare rally towels that fluttered onto the ice late in Game 5.
“When you’re in this position, you have to welcome it,’’ said Julien. “You can’t, certainly, fear it. The good part about it is that if you’re going to have a Game 7 and you have a choice, you certainly want it at home.’’
In the final minute of Game 6, the Bruins finally solved the Flyers’ shot-blocking mastery and beat goalie Michael Leighton, thanks to a Milan Lucic tap-in off the rebound of a Dennis Wideman point blast. But before then, the Flyers kept the Bruins’ offensive sniffs to a minimum. Aside from a chest stop on Trent Whitfield’s shorthanded breakaway and a two-save, third-period sequence on Mark Stuart and Miroslav Satan, Leighton, making his first NHL playoff start, was asked to do far less than counterpart Tuukka Rask.
To elude the Flyers (30 blocked shots in Game 6), the Bruins must first win battles to gain puck possession. They’ll have to execute crisp breakouts and gain clean entries into the offensive zone, where they can initiate their high-low game and cycle. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette has instructed his players to challenge point shots, but also keep their defensive-zone box tight to seal off passing lanes and take away the front of the net.
If the Bruins are to solve the Flyers’ airtight coverage, the defensemen must assume more responsibilities of joining the rush and avoiding Philly’s shot-blockers. In the first period of Game 6, one of the Bruins’ best chances came when Chara pinched down the left wall, carried the puck behind the net, and spotted Vladimir Sobotka in front.
“I think you have to really read the game,’’ Chara said. “If there’s a chance to step up and help offensively, there’s a time and space for it. It’s not a big secret that both teams like to use the second wave of defensemen coming in and helping the offense.’’
The Canadiens await. Now it’s up to the Bruins to join the party.