The measure of a team or an individual is how they handle success. Do they build upon it or become complacent with it? It's time to break out the ruler for the Bruins tonight at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
The Bruins have not dealt with prosperity well during coach Claude Julien's tenure. They're more comfortable being counted out than being counted on.
After losing four out of five games, the Bruins rattled off their first 6-0-0 road trip since the days of Bobby Orr on their way to winning seven straight. Then they lost six out of their next seven. We all remember last season's epic 3-0, 3-0 collapse against the Flyers. In 2009, the Bruins rebounded from a 3-1 deficit against the Carolina Hurricanes to force a Game 7 that they lost in overtime on home ice. In 2008, the Bruins erased a 3-1 deficit against the Canadiens and then went out with a whimper in a 5-0 loss at the Bell Centre.
Now, the Bruins have the Montreal Canadiens on the ropes after rallying from an 0-2 series deficit to pull out a hat trick of victories and take a 3-2 series lead. Luck and momentum are riding shotgun with the Black and Gold after overtime wins in each of the last two contests. Can they capitalize and close out the Canadiens tonight or will they be content with the cushion of a seventh game on home ice?
The Bruins, who have never won a playoff series in which they trailed 0-2 (0 for 26), better finish off the Habs tonight in Montreal, otherwise let the agonizing and agita begin for the Spoke-Believers, who have begun to regard Game 7 as a fatal fait accompli for their Stanley Cup-starved team.
Can you imagine the milieu of apprehension and foreboding that will pervade TD Garden tomorrow night if the Bruins lose to the Canadiens tonight and have to return home for a do-or-die Game 7? Everyone in attendance will be waiting for the next skate to drop, for another potentially promising playoff run to come to a premature end in crushing and accursed fashion.
It will be Boston sports angst at its best or worst depending on your perspective.
The Bruins don't need the air of 39 years of desperation and disappointment wafting above them at TD Garden as they chase around the pesky Canadiens. That's part of the reason they went down 0-2 in this series in the first place, losing the first two games on home ice. There's pressure on them to atone for coughing up the Flyers series, pressure to get past the second round, pressure to save Julien's job, pressure to prove they're not the same old Black and Gold.
That's why tonight at the Bell Centre is a must-win.
Now might be a good time to mention that the Bruins have not won a Game 7 since 1994...against the Canadiens. Back then Cam Neely was a 50-goal scorer and not the top suit in the front office, and the team still played in the old Boston Garden. It's been a while. They are 0-3 in Game 7s under Julien. Eventually to end their Cup drought they're going to have to win a Game 7. There's no way around that.
But Bruins fans from New Brunswick to New London, Conn. are leery of another unlucky seventh game against the Bruins eternal antagonists, the Canadiens, too much heartbreak, too many headaches and too much history with the hated Habs.
Psychological repercussions of going to a seventh game aside, there are still some major questions for the Bruins to answer tonight.
Can you win a series if Chris Kelly (2 goals, 2 assists) has as many points as your entire top line -- Milan Lucic (0-1), David Krejci (1-0) and Nathan Horton (2-0) -- combined, and Jumbo Joe Thornton has outscored them? The former Bruins captain and notorious playoff no-show potted the series-winner last night for the San Jose Sharks, and has a 2-3-5 line.
Lucic finally got on the scoresheet with an assist in Game 5 and had a game-high eight shots on goal. Horton scored the game-winner in double-overtime with some opportunistic body positioning. But overall the top line has been stuck in neutral in the series. It's probably going to take more from them to drop the curtain on the Canadiens tonight, unless Michael Ryder extends his remarkable renaissance .
Can you a win a series without scoring a single power play goal? The Bruins are 0 for 15 on the power play in this series. They are the only team in the playoffs without a power play goal. Even the New York Rangers, who have been on vacation for three days, departed the playoffs with a power play goal stamped on their passports.
Tomas Kaberle was supposed to juice up the power play. Instead, it's continued to short-circuit and Kaberle has been a bit of a defensive liability.
For those who say Julien never reclaims ice time from struggling players check out Kaberle's numbers after Zdeno Chara sat out Game 2 and Kaberle led all Bruins defensemen with 28 minutes, 4 seconds. Since then Kaberle has played 16 minutes and 8 seconds in Game 3, 15:01 in Game 4 and 21:10 in Game 5, a double-OT affair. Chara (37:06), Dennis Seidenberg (38:15), Johnny Boychuk (32:35) and Andrew Ference (30:07) all saw significantly more ice time in grueling Game 5.
The biggest question of all is whether the Bruins can display the killer instinct needed to storm into the Bell Centre and send the Canadiens and their fans home for the postseason? You see the Celtics revel in such environments. They're a championship team. That's not a coincidence.
The Bruins have done a remarkable job of recovering to seize control of the series, and shown a lot of resolve and fortitude in the process. Now, they have to choke the life out of those "CH" sweaters or risk coughing up another playoff series.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.