They need one or they're done
WILMINGTON - While a good portion of New England yesterday played the role of Claude Julien, trying to breathe life into his team and figure out how to defuse the Carolina Hurricanes, the real Julien put his Bruins through the paces one more time at Ristuccia Arena.
It was cold, of course, but certainly no chillier than the Boston game plan that has gone into a deep, disturbing freeze for the last three games.
"This is where we're at," mused Julien after the early-afternoon workout. "This is reality and there is no sugar-coating it."
Based on what we've seen lately, it very well could be the last time in 2008-09 that Julien will steer his weary bunch of Black-and-Gold stick carriers through a full off-day workout. Trailing the Canes, 3-1, in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Bruins tonight will be back on the job in Game 5 at the Garden, searching for some bit of inspiration or emotional footing to try to salvage a season that just a week ago appeared headed to a berth in the Cup finals.
Why do bad things happen to good teams? Any number of reasons, but it most often comes down to talent, and to that point the Canes aren't the one-line slouches many of us pegged them to be in the hours leading up to this series. Maybe the Bruins aren't this bad - at least if we are to believe that best-record-in-the East thing during the regular season - but they are this bad right now, first and foremost because the Canes are making them look that way.
The 2006 Cup champs play with abundant speed (Boston's biggest obstacle to confront at the moment), requisite grit, and an impressive amount of guile embodied in their franchise center, Eric Staal, best described to a Boston audience as the Joe Thornton that so many here dreamed about but never really got to know.
Staal is skilled and game, somewhat surprising to a Boston audience that saw him not tally a single point in the four games he played during the regular season against the Bruins. He potted a pair of goals (Nos. 8 and 9 of the postseason) Friday night in Carolina's 4-1 victory, and he time and again dashed around the offensive zone with speed, force, and confidence, the shiny hood ornament atop the sleek, nimble, and dynamic Canes offensive vehicle.
What are the Bruins to do now? Well, perhaps they could filch a small tip from Henry David Thoreau's playbook, "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For." The Concordian life coach preached, "Simplify, simplify, simplify! . . . simplicity of life and elevation of purpose."
A quick peek through Thoreau's pages yesterday offered nothing in the way of cobbling together a menacing forechecking game, but if the Bruins can find a way back to playoff utopia, a good place to start would be to press the puck in Carolina's defensive end. It might not lead to goals, but if nothing else it would negate some of the all-too-protracted stretches in which the Canes buzz around Boston's end.
"We were successful in the regular season because of our good forecheck," said second-year winger Milan Lucic, among the many (all?) Boston forwards who are working hard, but also inefficiently and ineffectively. "We've got to get that going, get the [first] forechecker in there and do something with the puck.
"If you look, there are times we get it, but we give it right back, and then they just get it out. We haven't done a good job of holding and protecting the puck. We have to do it. In the end, you don't want to be left saying, 'Woulda, coulda, shoulda.' That's the difference between winning and losing."
An impossible situation? No. In the history of the Stanley Cup playoffs, 21 of 236 clubs have battled back from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. That would give the Bruins about an 8.9 percent chance of rattling off three straight victories.
A sand pit in Nevada stands today as a desert mecca as a result of bookies taking action around those kinds of odds, but what's life as a Bruins fan if not a Herculean stretch of faith?
Just ask those who still cling to the memory of Bobby Orr taking flight in the Garden air, 39 years ago this very Mother's Day afternoon, when we all thought Cup championships would be manufactured forever in the old West End.
If the Bruins have an emotional card to play tonight on Causeway Street, something related to No. 4's seminal moment, among our city's most cherished sports moments, would fit the bill. It doesn't get any better than that bit of old-time hockey.
And the present doesn't get much worse.