On Hockey

Situation same as it ever was

Julien unlikely to change things until it’s too late

Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas has appeared uncomfortable and awkward at times during this playoff series. Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas has appeared uncomfortable and awkward at times during this playoff series. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
By Kevin Paul Dupont
April 18, 2011

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Burn the boats. Play the kid up front. Start the backup goaltender. Toss the names of all the forwards into a hat, give it a shake, and see what the fickle finger of fate conjures up for line combinations. Three left wingers all on one line? Sure, what the heck, play ’em.

These are desperate times for the Bruins. Again. Logic dictates that coach-by-the-numbers Claude Julien will go with the same players and methods that he used in the Bruins’ 3-1 loss Saturday to the Canadiens. His Bruins are now down, 0-2, in the best-of-seven playoff series, and if we’ve learned anything about Julien these past four seasons, it’s that he sticks with the program, and sticks to it with conviction.

“It’s costly mistakes . . . ’’ Julien mused early yesterday afternoon during his brief media briefing at the Garden, summing up his club’s many faux pas to date, “not making the right decisions.’’

As well as not playing with urgency . . . not imposing a physical game . . . not following up initial shots on Habs goalie Carey Price with viable scoring chances . . . not doing much of anything that led the Bruins to post a 103-point season and position themselves for what most everyone thought could be a decent playoff run.

Now we have the Bruins once again on the verge of being bounced by Les Habs, in large part because they’ve been able to cobble together only one goal over six periods. Could this possibly be the same team we watched for the past six-plus months?

As I departed the Garden yesterday, I couldn’t help but think back to a stretch in the ’80s when the Habs knocked the Bruins out of the playoffs for four straight seasons, 1984-87, three of those via sweeps. After finally beating them in ’88, the Bruins lost to Les Glorieux again in ’89, dropping a second-round set in five games.

One of those years, I believe it was ’89, the Bruins were in the old Forum, facing elimination. A frustrated Bob Wilson, the club’s legendary radio voice, detailed Boston’s predicament in his pregame show, noting all the firepower the Canadiens had at hand as they attempted to close out the series.

“And who do the Bruins counter with?’’ bellowed Wilson in his deep, mellifluent voice. “Lyndon Byers . . . who couldn’t put the puck in the ocean if he was standing at the edge of the dock!’’ Wilson punctuated dock with near-theatrical emphasis.

Now, like then, the Bruins have few options to reconnect with an offense that scored the third-most goals (246) in the Eastern Conference this season. They also scored 30 more times than the Canadiens, whose goals in this series have been all but handed to them, especially in Game 2, when turnovers by defensemen Andrew Ference, Johnny Boychuk, and Dennis Seidenberg all ended up in the Boston net.

Tyler Seguin, a.k.a. “the kid’’ here in Paragraph 1, is one obvious option. Seguin became a near-forgotten part down the stretch of the regular season and has yet to suit up in this series. The rookie thus far has shied away from all contact, real or imagined, which is clearly why Julien has opted to shelve him thus far. It’s not that Seguin isn’t strong enough. He just isn’t willing enough to take a hit, give a hit. If he wants to play in this league, he’ll have to get over that, in a hurry.

Seguin isn’t about to shift into heavy-battle mode now, if ever, but he has dazzling speed and true shooting skill, assets that might entice Julien to drop him into Game 3. There is that itsy-bitsy chance that he could help the moribund power play, which again didn’t score in Game 2 and has turned into an open sore for Julien and his staff. The bench brain trust has had some seven weeks to find some redeeming quality in the man-advantage, but it has remained dysfunctional — even with Tomas Kaberle’s sublime passing skills added at the point.

Seguin, if Julien opted to insert him, could supplant any number of forwards, but either Michael Ryder or Danny Paille would the likeliest candidates. For that matter, Seguin could go in for Nathan “No Show’’ Horton on the No. 1 line. Horton has reverted to midseason form (i.e. invisible).

Goaltender Tuukka Rask most likely will be back backing up tonight, again because Julien prefers to go with the known, and he’s known for weeks that Tim Thomas would be his postseason horse. But Thomas was overwhelmingly underwhelming in Games 1 and 2, prone to giving up fat rebounds, early goals, and often looking uncomfortable and awkward in his save-making. Rask may not deliver anything better, but this could be one of those times that change is necessary just for the sake of change. When nothing’s working, is it better just to hope it works or to try something to make it work?

Tossing all the names in a hat to conjure line combinations — the way a frustrated baseball manager might revise his batting order — just isn’t going to happen. Not unless/until the Bruins are faced with an 0-3 series deficit. Then anything is possible, even pulling Byers out of the good-times-nothing-but-good-times NESN studio in Watertown to dress in an emeritus role. Would LB wrestle Shane Hnidy for that No. 34 sweater or just dress as the dock?

Game 3 tonight in the city of so many broken Black-and-Gold dreams. A desperate time for the Bruins, their fans, and especially their coach, who never has been one to act out of desperation.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at

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