We’ve seen this inaction before
Less than 48 hours after the Garden crowd derided the Canadiens with a boisterous and taunting, “Ole! Ole! Ole!!!,’’ a sellout of 17,565 shuffled out on to Causeway Street yesterday afternoon muttering a disillusioned, “Oh, brother . . . ’’
Not good enough. Not by a long shot. Certainly not what wins in the playoffs.
Fresh off embarrassing the Habs with that 7-0 pasting Thursday night, the Bruins showed up (barely) again on home ice and were rubbed out, 1-0, by a heavy, grinding, patient, disciplined bunch of Rangers. Little did the Blueshirts know they would go into the day with one significant advantage. To wit: the Bruins’ near-stupefying failure to show an emotional spark until the final minutes of the third period.
All in all, it translated to nearly 54 minutes of do-nothing and nothing-doing hockey.
Sure, in an 82-game season, there are days and nights like that. But Game No. 74, with the postseason only some three weeks away? If yesterday provided a glimpse into what the playoffs hold — especially if they deliver the Rangers as the Round 1 opponent — then it’s not going to end pretty for the 2010-11 Bruins.
“It was kind of tough,’’ said first-line right wing Nathan Horton, who took all of two shots for the afternoon, only one of which made it to the net. “They battled hard at every spot on the ice. We got outbattled a couple of times.’’
In fact, the Bruins were outworked over and over and over again, until they finally found some gumption late in the third, with the Rangers clinging to the comfort of Derek Stepan’s goal at 6:39 of the first. Nothing more telling than the final shot total, which had the Bruins with a 26-23 advantage, which included their lopsided 12-1 edge in the third. They also amassed 22 more shots in the third, only to have 18 blocked and four miss the net.
“We were a little light on our sticks for the first 40 minutes,’’ said coach Claude Julien, whose No. 1 line (Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Horton) attempted only three shots in the first two periods and failed to get one on net. “That put us in a bad situation. In the third period, too little, too late.’’
Julien called a rare timeout Thursday night, rare in that his club had a 3-0 lead at the time. Sensing his squad needed a reminder not to let its intensity wane, he called everyone to the bench for one of those refocusing moments. He could have done that at any time yesterday, but it was especially obvious in the second period, particularly during a stop in play at 4:33 with the Rangers’ shot lead at 14-8 and the Bruins more than an hour beyond answering the 1 p.m. faceoff call.
But the moment passed. And it passed again at 11:31 of the second when Marian Gaborik was whistled off for boarding. Julien needed to find a way into his club’s psyche, a way to make the players smell the playoffs. But nothing. The play behind the bench was as flat as it was on the ice, much as it was last spring in Games 4, 5, 6, and 7 of Round 2 against the Flyers.
Julien can’t let those moments pass. Truth is, once the playoffs are over, he’s likely to lose his job if he has let such moments come and go.
Historically, Julien has been slow to reach for the emotional whip hand, even slower to shake up lines or cut down his bench during a game. Whether his squad is rolling along to a 7-0 win or shuffling its feet in a 1-0 loss, he sticks to form. The players may change on the fly, but the approach is as fixed and immovable as the statue of the “Flying Bobby’’ outside the Garden.
A look at Julien’s overall record in the regular season with the Bruins, 174-101-45, proves that approach has its merits. He has also gone 17-14 in three postseasons, not bad, but has yet to win a second-round series (0 for 2). When it came time to adjust on the fly in Round 2 last year vs. the Flyers, especially when Krejci was grounded with a wrist injury in Game 4, nothing really changed. Except that a 3-0 series lead turned into a 3-4 summer hangover.
The worst part of the Flyers series was the club’s emotional flatline in Game 5 back on Causeway Street. And like yesterday, no goals. The Flyers slapped a 4-0 beating on them and the tumble down the hill was officially underway.
Eight games to go for the Bruins in the regular season, including tonight’s match with, guess who, the Flyers. Maybe yesterday’s no-show meant nothing. But if it ends up being another indication of a club prone to fall asleep at critical times, and a coach who won’t break from boilerplate, then it will have been a matinee that told us what was coming.