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For Bruins, it's time to check their ID

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  May 23, 2011 09:15 AM

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Their recent, wretched history is now standing in their path, staring them in the eyes, haunting them from the 39 years since the spring of 1972. The Bruins get to decide again now. They get a say in who they are. They get to choose whether they are more like every other Boston hockey team over the last four decades, or whether they are truly different.

Really, isn't that what this series is about now? The Bruins raced to a 3-0 lead in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. They seemed on the verge of a commanding 3-1 series lead. Then the Bruins collapsed under the weight of promise, playing like a team afraid to win, collapsing in such ignominious fashion that Game 5 tonight at the TD Garden suddenly has the feel of a must-win situation.

The series could still be theirs, of course, though it hardly feels it. The Lightning have the momentum. The Lightning appear to have solved Tim Thomas. And the Bruins have been left to dwell on a missed opportunity, on what might have been a chance to finish off the Lightning tonight, on an old, familiar feeling that has sat beneath the surface of Causeway Street since Richard Nixon inhabited the White House.

Resignation.

"We got outworked," Bruins goalie Thomas told reporters in the immediate aftermath of Game 4.

Said would-be captain Patrice Bergeron, "We sat back."

Added wind-up toy Brad Marchand, "We thought we had them. We took it for granted."

So here are the questions: How? Why? What could possibly possess a team with the recent past of the Bruins to operate as if anything were cemented, particularly given the daggers that have pierced their logo for the better part of the Mark Recchi's life?

Tell us: what?

By now, we all understand the impact of something like Game 4, of blowing a three-goal lead against anyone, anywhere, at anytime during the postseason. The Bruins had a 3-0 advantage in Game 7 of their second-round series against the Flyers last year and blew it to smithereens, a 3-0 series lead similarly going poof. They faced a 3-1 deficit in Game 4 of this year's first-round series against the Montreal Canadiens, a 3-1 series deficit also looming, when they rallied for an inspiring victory that remains the axis on which their current postseason had turned.

At least until now.

Now, in the wake of Game 4 on Saturday in Tampa, we cannot help but look back on recent Bruins history and know that we have seen this all before, for better or for worse. Is this some reincarnation of last year's Flyers series again? Or is this Montreal, this year, in reverse? These are the questions swirling in minds from Providence to Presque Isle, all as the Bruins prepare to take the ice for Game 5 of a series that is now, quite literally, anybody's game.

Well beyond the fact that this series is now even, that was the most damaging aspect of Saturday's Game 4 defeat, the Bruins looking as if they were inflicted by a disease that we long thought cured.

"It was almost like we were paralyzed out there," is how coach Claude Julien put it.

Logically, of course, we all know the Bruins are capable of winning this series, their mettle having been tested repeatedly throughout this postseason. The Bruins lost the first two games of the Montreal series and persevered. They buried the Flyers. They have Patrice Bergeron back and Tyler Seguin on the ice, and they have two of the remaining three games on their home ice. They have, without question, a certain chutzpah that the Bruins of prior years did not possess, and they have the knowledge that they blasted the Lightning during the regular season by an 8-1 score in a game started by goalie Mike Smith.

So on some levels, the series is not even. The Bruins still have a slight edge. The trick now is for the Bruins and their following to convince themselves of that in the wake of Game 4, the indisputable one that got away.

Nonetheless, if the Bruins are to once again endure in this postseason, they must do so amid some worrisome on-ice signs, too. David Krejci simply has not been the same player since Marc-Andre Bergeron knocked him for a loop in Game 3. Tyler Seguin is pointless, and a minus-1 overall, since Game 2. Tomas Kaberle looks beyond soft. The power play remains inept. And lest anyone think otherwise, the Bruins have scored one legitimate goal (the one by Krejci in Game 3) in the last two contests, the other four coming as the result of either bad goaltending on the part of Dwayne Roloson or atrocious turnovers by the Lightning. (Or both.)

Amid all of that, the Bruins will return to the ice for Game 5, before a TD Garden crowd that is certain to be, well, nervous. The first misstep will cause even more anxiety. Thanks to their own doing, the Bruins are now fighting their past as surely as they are battling with these Lightning, whose game-winning goal in Game 4 was produced by none other than the sinister Simon Gagne.

Game 5 is now just hours away.

Here we go, Bruins?

Or here we go again?

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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