No easy fixes for Bruins’ breakdowns
Absences of star and power play glaring
Clearly, this isn’t Montreal. And sure as a slap shot it’s not the Flyers. The Bruins, now one giant step toward extinction in the Eastern Conference finals after Saturday night’s humbling 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Causeway Street, look as if they’ll have to change parts or approach if they hope to rub out the Lightning and make it to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1990.
In Round 1 this year, even after dropping the first two games to the Canadiens, Bruins coach Claude Julien stuck with the same ol’, same ol’, and edged the Habs, needing to go to overtime in Game 7 to advance to Round 2 against the banged-up Flyers.
If Julien could make one change in this series, it would be a deal with the devil to get Patrice Bergeron back in the lineup. But that appears doubtful for the immediate future. Bergeron, concussed in the final moments of the Game 4 sweep over the Flyers a week ago Friday, skated yesterday for a second day in a row. However, his only on-ice workout was with strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides, who fed the talented pivot a steady flow of pucks and helped him boost his heart rate.
To date, Bergeron has had on-ice workouts with neither the scrubs nor the varsity and has yet to engage in contact drills. No one connected with the club will say, and Bergeron has not been made available to the media, but his return to the lineup looks like it wouldn’t come until very late, if at all, in the best-of-seven series with the Bolts.
“If he’s not 100 percent he will never play,’’ said Julien, repeating the mantra that has been in place with the Bruins dating to Bergeron’s devastating concussion in October 2007. “Whether it’s regular season or playoffs, our organization, even before [the league] tightened up the rules on that, there is no way we would ever do that to a player.’’
A player’s quality of life in the present and future, emphasized the coach, must take precedence over all game/playoff/career concerns.
“So the day you see Bergy back in our lineup, he will be 100 percent,’’ added Julien. “If he’s not, you’re not going to see him.’’
So, what to do? Without Bergeron, the Bruins were clearly overmatched by a Tampa team that had one of its stocking stuffers, ex-Harvard forward Dominic Moore, awarded the night’s first star. The No. 2 star was Brett Clark, yet another role player. The No. 3 star was goalie Dwayne Roloson, who turned aside 31 shots, the vast majority of which could have been handled from a chaise lounge, Mai Tai in hand.
The point being, the Bolts took a 1-0 lead in the series with only one of their top gunners (assist by Martin St. Louis) factoring in the scoring. Either it’s a very deep lineup or the Bruins, without Bergeron, are easy pickings for the Jeff Vinik-owned Bolts.
When asked yesterday if the Game 1 result would cause him to change things up, Julien noted that today is yet another day off, giving the organization time to ponder the what-ifs, how-comes, and what-have-yous.
“That is something certainly we are going to be thinking about,’’ said Julien, who needed to lead his club into the Eastern Conference finals this spring if he hoped to return in October to begin his fifth season as the Spoked-B’s bench boss. “Just because we didn’t change it against Montreal, and it worked, doesn’t mean we have to do the same thing — we are open to whatever is the right solution.’’
The ever-correct fan base, of course, knows in its bones that Tyler Seguin (1-1—2 in his playoff debut Saturday night) is the cure-all to Boston’s poor start in Round 3. When the Bruins find themselves in times of trouble, the fans come speaking words of wisdom, and those words always include the inexperienced Seguin. Let it be, the Seguinaphants always say.
But that’s not Julien’s world. He is a meritocrat, and when asked Saturday night if he would consider using the slick 19-year-old on the power play, the veteran coach, appearing to grit his teeth and suck on an imaginary lemon at the same time, said, “No comment.’’
Julien, who kept the varsity off skates yesterday, appeared to have softened some, perhaps after a sobering view of the game tape.
He didn’t say Seguin would play on the power play tomorrow night in Game 2. But he did say that he considered it in Game 1, a night in which the dysfunctional Black-and-Gold power play went 0 for 4 and now stands a feckless, almost unimaginable 2 for 41 (4.9 percent).
By Julien’s eye, Boston’s power play, though stymied across the 60 minutes, showed improvement in its last two opportunities. Had it not perked up, he said, he would have considered calling on Seguin.
“But our power play has been good the last couple of games,’’ said Julien, who saw his squad go without a power-play goal for 10 straight games, including all seven vs. the Canadiens. “Just because you struggle the first couple of ones, you [don’t] explode it again and try something new. Had it not gone well . . . he would’ve certainly been considered [for the power play].’’
All in all, that translates merely to a “maybe’’ for Seguin on the man-advantage. The bigger issue remains the loss of Bergeron as a “glue guy’’ in Boston’s overall game, in all three zones. He is their smartest, most comprehensive pivot and without him the whole puck possession/management game changes.
The Bruins won only 39 percent of their faceoffs in Game 1, with David Krejci a woeful 3 for 18 (17 percent) and Rich Peverley an anemic 6 for 16 (38 percent). That’s a heap of hurt in the possession game.
Flipping Seguin into the power play, or adding to his ice time at even strength with linemates Michael Ryder and Peverley, won’t substantially change the game composition.
Julien needs much more out of his top line (Milan Lucic-Krejci-Nathan Horton) and way more out of his defensemen, especially the stumbling and bumbling Tomas Kaberle, who gifted Tampa its third goal (Teddy Purcell) in Game 1 and continued to be light in the hitting game (zero) and virtually shot-phobic.
Tampa showed in Game 1 that it can win with its best players — the likes of Vinny Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, Ryan Malone, and St. Louis — making only limited contributions. That is not the case with Julien’s charges, especially with Bergeron still on the mend and the power play seemingly broken beyond repair. Boston’s best will have to be better, beginning tomorrow night, or the talk of a Cup parade in June will switch to yet another opportunity lost and the look of September’s training camp roster.