With about two minutes to play in regulation on Monday against the Leafs, the Bruins still trailing by two before completing the NHL’s biggest Game 7 third-period comeback of all-time, I started taking notes on all the reasons I thought it was time for coach Claude Julien to be fired.
A second monumental playoff collapse since 2010, sandwiched around an improbable Stanley Cup victory and another early, disappointing postseason exit.
Perhaps he’d lost the room, or it was merely time to acknowledge that adage that clamors for a new voice.
His stubborn unwillingness to toy with underachieving lines prior to the decisive game may have put his team in this situation, and seventh game alterations were simply too little, too late.
The power play, oh that anemic power play, featuring the league’s leading postseason scorer on the second unit.
I wondered how the accountability should be distributed between the coach, general manager, players, and even Cam Neely as the supervisor of the operation.
Then it happened, one of the most impressive single game rallies in Boston sports history.
Causeway Street rocked well into the night, while the Leafs' Joffrey Lupul was left thinking about how that loss will haunt him until the day he dies.
As an emotional Milan Lucic admitted, his team may have gotten a little lucky, but they showed character. And, wouldn’t you know after a gut-wrenching, nail-biting, hair-pulling first round seven-game series with an ending drawn from theater, the Black and Gold will, for the first time in the playoffs since 1973, next host a team from Broadway.
The show must go on and the hope throughout the Hub is that the Bruins are a long way from a curtain call.
The New York Rangers are fresh off a seven-game series win of their own over the Washington Capitals. Reigning Vezina trophy winner and current finalist Henrik Lundqvist, arguably the very individual who bumped Tuukka Rask from consideration for this year’s crown, posted back-to-back shutouts in the final two games of the first round to guide his Blueshirts to victory.
Lundqvist is a beast, and he’s paid like it to the tune of a $6.875 million annual cap hit. In the opening round, he put the Rangers on his shoulders and finished with a 1.65 goals-against-average and .947 save percentage while his team, like the Bruins, was marred by injuries (Ryan Clowe, Marc Staal, Darroll Powe) and underachievers (Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Brad Richards). Making matters worse, Lundqvist is 21-7-2 with six whitewashes in his career against the B’s. Oh, and he’s not a rebound-machine like James Reimer, so the Bruins will have to capitalize on what could be a limited selection of chances each night.
In three regular season meetings this year, the Bruins went 1-0-2 against the Rangers. I know, who cares? In those matchups, the B’s struggled on the power play at 1-for-16. I know, what else is new?
Frankly, neither team was particularly impressive on special teams over the last two weeks, though the B's two enormous extra-attacker goals to extend their season were awfully special. The Bruins finished 3-for-20 (15%) with the man-advantage and 16-of-21 (76.2%) when short-handed, while the Rangers were 2-for-28 (7.1%) on the power play and 13-of-16 (81.2%) on the penalty kill.
If you’re anxious for a scouting report, the Rangers are physical and like to play nasty, they’re fast and very skilled defensively, they love to block shots (23 per game against the Caps) and, as noted, they’re well-represented between the pipes. They’re better than the Leafs and in many ways aren’t too dissimilar to the Bruins.
To advance again, the B’s will need to ditch this ever so fitting Jekyll and Hyde label and be consistent. They’ve got to learn from their struggles and myriad of mistakes against Toronto, and avoid getting outworked as they were in the second half of the series. Roll over that killer instinct.
They’ll have to hope they get healthier on defense, or design one heck of a strategy for workhorse Zdeno Chara and insert prayers for Dennis Seidenberg here against the likes of Nash, the red-hot Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and company. It’s tough to envision them surviving the round without Seidenberg or Andrew Ference – who would have imagined that during the regular season?
They’ll have to get another fantastic performance from Rask in net. He had a 2.49 GAA and .923 save percentage in the first round, but anyone who watched knows he was far better than those numbers. In each period of Game 7, he made at least one game-saving block. Just ask Lupul, Jake Gardiner, Mikhail Grabovski, or Matt Frattin. Again, pay the man.
Lucic – much maligned during the regular season – will have to continue his elite postseason play, a sentence I’ve been longing to write for years. He was especially phenomenal in Game 7, down the stretch above all. Reliability like that during the year and his heavily criticized contract would look like a steal. Linemates David Krejci and Nathan Horton will have to keep clicking as well, and those two are historically proven to be big game players.
Hopefully the first six games against the Leafs were an aberration for Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin, as Patrice Bergeron did his best to carry them. It grew tiring waiting for Marchand to find himself on the ice, and watching Seguin get increasingly frustrated – and often pout – after many of his 29 missed shots while he was outdueled by adopted nemesis Phil Kessel. It wasn’t until the line’s first and only shift together in Game 7 in overtime that the trio was filled with jubilation. Hopefully an air was lifted, just as fans outside the Air Canada Centre gasped for some. They’ll undoubtedly be reunited in Game 1 against New York with Jaromir Jagr returning to the third line, so it’s time to build on that momentum. And, if that scenario unfolds, Jagr will have to start trusting Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley.
A note to the forwards as a group: Get pucks through traffic! Put bodies in front of the net! You’ll hear that a lot.
The Bruins are in the semifinal round for the fourth time in five seasons. Both teams are equally tired having last played on Monday and both went the distance. It’s a fresh start for everyone, so hopefully this week’s short physical and – maybe more important – mental rest goes a long way for the B’s.
Prediction? My head says Rangers in six, while my heart says Bruins in seven. But, if Game 7 against the Leafs taught us anything, we won’t really know a thing until it’s over.
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About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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