Defeat doesn’t lead to loss of confidence
A series that’s been statistically skewed toward the Bruins currently favors Vancouver in the only category that matters: victories. But just because the Canucks sit one win away from lifting the Stanley Cup — they’ll take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 tomorrow night at TD Garden — doesn’t mean the Bruins, or coach Claude Julien, are lacking confidence.
To a man, they don’t dislike the position they’re in. There’s work to be done — history says the odds are stacked against them — but the biggest carrot dangling in front of them is opportunity, ready to be seized.
“There’s no better place to be right now than in Boston playing hockey in June,’’ said Chris Kelly, one of a handful of Bruins made available to the media yesterday afternoon following the team’s flight from Vancouver. “It’s exciting, to get this opportunity to play Game 6 at home. It’s a must-win.’’
All five games have been won by the home team, seemingly giving the Bruins the advantage of forcing Game 7. They’ve outscored the Canucks, 14-6, have a better power-play percentage, better penalty-killing percentage, higher save percentage, and have led for a longer duration, all on the strength of 8-1 and 4-0 wins at home. Three one-goal victories by the Canucks in Vancouver, though, trumps all.
“It’s all about wins and losses this time of year,’’ said winger Shawn Thornton. “The rest of the numbers, all that other stuff goes right out the window.
“I don’t want to take anything away from them, they’re a really good hockey team, but I know we weren’t as good as we needed to be [in Game 5], and I don’t think there’s an excuse for that. I think we got outworked a little bit, and that can’t happen this time of year if you want to be successful.’’
Playing an elimination game is a position the Bruins have been in before this postseason. Twice, in fact, with the Montreal and Tampa Bay series stretching to seven games. Both decisive contests were in Boston. Both, obviously, were won by the Bruins.
Is the approach to an elimination game any different?
“I don’t think so,’’ Kelly said. “Every game has been huge throughout the playoffs. Obviously, we know what’s at stake, we need to win [tomorrow] to prolong our season. That’s the approach we’ll take.’’
Julien, channeling his inner Herb Brooks, agrees.
“I believe in this group of guys. We’ve been through a lot,’’ he said. “We feel right now we have a team that can compete right till the end. The only thing we have left to do is go out there and show it.
“We may not have brought the same game to Vancouver as we did here. But I don’t think we’re that far off. In all three of those games, we had an opportunity to win. We were in every game in Vancouver, and that’s important for us right now, to know that if we can play a little better and create that Game 7, we’ll be a confident group.’’
Energy the key The biggest components lacking in the 1-0 Game 5 loss Friday night, according to Zdeno Chara, were the Bruins’ energy level and physicality. Strange, since the Bruins had the upper hand in those areas in Games 3 and 4 in Boston. They’ll need it again tomorrow night.
“For sure, we have to bring the energy, probably better than we did last game,’’ said Chara. “We had it [Friday night], but not throughout the whole 60 minutes. There were times I thought we were kind of flat in those areas. We just need to make sure we continue to do that for the full 60 minutes.’’
Vancouver outhit the Bruins, 47-27, in Game 5, an important number not lost on Julien.
“Let’s not hide behind the fact that they outhit us and they seemed hungrier,’’ Julien said. “That’s where we should have been able to push back, and we didn’t do that well enough. We’re aware of that and we certainly would like to have another crack at it. We have to show that in our building here next game.’’
Game 7 would be first In the Bruins’ 17 previous trips to the Stanley Cup Final, they’ve never played a Game 7 (the NHL adopted the best-of-seven format in 1938-39, when the Bruins beat Toronto in five games to clinch their second Cup). The three times they’ve trailed, 3-2, after five games, they lost the series in six, twice at home: to Montreal in 1958, and again in 1978. Philadelphia also won the 1974 Stanley Cup in six games over the Bruins, but clinched at the Spectrum.
What significance might that have this year? None. But the Bruins’ immediate goal is to force something that’s never happened in the history of the organization.
“There have been a lot of practices throughout your whole career or through the season of having to stay alive and keep your hopes alive for the Cup,’’ said Andrew Ference. “It’s about going out and playing the game and having a solid head on your shoulders to do it the right way. It’s not about having a magic potion or anything like that.’’
Update expected Julien said he expected a medical update today on Nathan Horton, who suffered a series-ending concussion in Game 3. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to him,’’ said Julien. “He didn’t make the trip, as you know, and we’re giving him his space because he needs it.’’ . . . Chara, the captain, was asked how he’ll keep the team from panicking in an elimination game. “Why should we panic?’’ he said. “It is basically another game. We know it’s a very important game, but I don’t think there’s a reason to panic.’’ . . . After scoring 12 goals on Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo in Games 3 and 4, the Bruins managed 31 shots Friday. “Roberto has been good,’’ Julien said. “He’s an elite goaltender, but I don’t think we’ve made his life as hard in Vancouver as we did here in Boston.’’
Michael Whitmer can be reached at email@example.com.