Changes are needed, but not likely
TAMPA — The Bruins are 15 games into their postseason, as far along as they have been in the Stanley Cup playoffs in 20 years, and they came within 40 minutes yesterday of taking a commanding 3-1 lead over the Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals.
Why, then, is there this feeling that the Black and Gold need to turn things around, in a hurry?
The reasons are many, adding up to their Philadelphia-like folder-oo inside St. Pete Times Forum after they built a 3-0 first-period lead. Once again, much like Round 2 last year against the Broad Streeters, they lost concentration, they lost pucks, they lost battles, they lost the lead, they lost their mojo, and eventually they lost everything, steered out of the Bay in a 5-3 loss that featured more poor play from Tomas (Le Miserable) Kaberle as the undercard and the utter uselessness of the first line of Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton as the feature.
All in all, and of most concern, the Bruins lost momentum, like a righthand uppercut square to the chinny-chin-chin of a glass jaw stops a fighter. Identical to a year ago, a 3-0 lead haunted the Bruins and empowered their opponents, the kill shot delivered by a Simon Gagne wrister all of six seconds after Kaberle blocked a shot by Victor Hedman, struggled to recover his feet, then backed up against goalie Tim Thomas to provide Gagne with some help scoring the goal that doesn’t exactly get tallied on the game summary as an assist.
The Bruins keep saying, and some in the media corps keep buying, that Kaberle’s play is improving. Not really. Especially when he is confronted in critical battle situations. Witness Tampa’s tying goal yesterday, when Sean Bergenheim tossed him off like a tearaway T-shirt behind the net, then darted to the front, with no opposition from the stunned Kaberle, to pop in his ninth goal of the playoffs. Vintage Kaberle ole’! Worth mentioning, too, a Kaberle-Adam McQuaid pairing is a calligraphed invite to big-time trouble.
But again, Kaberle’s futility, which has become as certain as rain this May in New England, wasn’t where the in-need-of-their-first-Cup-since-’72 Bruins were most failed. That prize went to the aforementioned top liners, Lucic, Krejci, and Horton, who put up all of two shots in a combined ice time of 54:50. And, wait, it gets worse than simply being no-shows:
■Krejci finished a game-worst minus-3, zero shots on net, and also lost 9 of 12 faceoffs. The Globe has the game tapes, he did suit up. When I asked Claude Julien postgame if Krejci were feeling any ill effects of the open-ice smack he took from Marc-Andre Bergeron in Game 3, the coach said, “No, no, not at all. His line after two periods had no shots on net . . . there’s more than David on that line. I think it was a tough night for their line tonight. And we know what impact they have for our hockey club when they’re on . . . a tough night for that line.’’ Krejci may not be hurt, but his game certainly was nearly in need of a defibrillator.
■Lucic, the power forward yet to play above nine volts the last six weeks, finished with only two hits, both in the third period. Too slow to engage. No presence, even on the ever-risible power play, which took its daily 0 for 2 and now stands 4 for 52. On the second man-advantage yesterday, Julien opted to give his second unit (Tyler Seguin-Mark Recchi-Michael Ryder) first crack at scoring, and they at least looked more promising, more awake.
■Horton didn’t land a hit, although he did earn a roughing minor for his collision on the rear wall with Steve Downie late in the second period, which also earned Downie a diving minor. That’s one hit and one shot (two more were blocked) over 18:11 of ice time. He has the body to do more. He has the legs and shot to do more. But he too often turns his equity into mediocrity, or less. When will it fully and finally dawn on this guy that he’s not in Sunrise anymore?
The situation (2-2) likely won’t urge Julien to change much going into Game 5 tomorrow night at the Garden. He is as status quo as coaches go, and thus far he has been served well by his patience in 2010-11. Heck, Julien stayed the course with his lineup after dropping the opening two games of Round 1 vs. Montreal and with a trip to the conference finals, via a sweep of the Flyers in Round 2, avoided getting canned in the upcoming offseason.
But if Julien is ever going to change things, especially on the attack, now is the time to do it. Not one of his best three forwards now resides on the No. 1 line. Patrice Bergeron (two unassisted strikes yesterday) is his top performer, but the 25-year-old pivot is the anchor being pulled down by wingers Brad Marchand (zero shots) and Mark Recchi (one shot).
Julien’s two best other forwards at the moment, believe it or not, are Seguin and Ryder (Boston’s only assisted goal of the afternoon). Yes, I went there, Seguin and Ryder. Seguin is a press box refugee, Ryder all but salvage from a dumpster dive. But with the first-liners in a funk and Bergeron held hostage by two wingers short on steam, the best offensive bump available might be a Seguin-Bergeron-Ryder trio, dropping the Krejci line down a notch, ideally away from Tampa’s best checkers.
Chris Kelly could slip easily again between Marchand and Recchi. As for the fourth line, it simply has a better feel when Shawn Thornton (scratched for both games here) is on the job. If he’s in there, then one member of the fourth estate — be it Daniel Paille, Rich Peverley or Gregory Campbell — would have to sit. But he should be in there. Now.
All of those machinations likely won’t come into play. It’s typically not the way just-stay-status-quo Julien operates. But yesterday, when yet another 3-0 advantage proved again only to be a sand castle in the hands of high tide, it felt like something had to change. If not, then 2-2 quickly could turn into toodle-oo.