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Strong start, even better ending

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / April 27, 2010

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It took five games, one a double-overtime nail-biter, then nearly an additional 14 minutes in Game 6 last night for the Bruins finally to be the chased and not the chasers.

They got ahead. They stayed in front. Now they’re moving on to Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“The thing I liked, we came out and skated hard from the start,’’ said coach Claude Julien, his club fresh from erasing the Sabres, 4-3, to clinch the best-of-seven series in six games. “We got the puck in deep. We got shots. We started out probably better than any game we’ve played so far.’’

There is no telling what happens next for the play-from-behind Bruins, who hadn’t clinched a playoff series on home ice since 1999. They’ll face either the Penguins or Flyers in Round 2, which is likely to begin Friday night. No matter the opponent, they’ll have to come out more like they did last night, playing in forward rather than reverse, because consistently falling behind from the start of playoff games is usually nothing but an invitation to a summer full of what happeneds, how comes, and golly gees.

“We were pleased to score first,’’ noted captain Zdeno Chara. “You know, it puts you in a better mood. Everyone is more excited to play with a lead rather than from behind.’’

In each of the previous games, with the Bruins slower to start than a ’63 Rambler buried in the back of a Berkshire barn, the Sabres struck for the 1-0 lead. In two of their victories, including Game 2 in Buffalo, they battled back from 2-0 deficits. No surprise that Julien and his coaching staff had speed, forecheck, focus, and intensity at the top of last night’s checklist, especially after none of that was apparent Friday night in Buffalo when a series cakewalk suddenly turned into an HSBC horror show.

“Hard to explain,’’ mused Chara, trying to factor what happened in the other five games. “Buffalo had really strong starts. They come out skating hard and put a lot of pressure on you. For sure they’ve earned their reputation as a team that comes out flying and gets the lead. And [last night] I thought we did that extremely well. We were playing aggressively, not waiting to see what they were going to do.’’

Perhaps as important as the series won, Game 6 proved a lesson learned for the Bruins. They logged 46:11 of lead time, never giving up the advantage after David Krejci redirected home a Mark Recchi shot at 13:39 of the first period on the power play. They did other things quite well in the series. They shaped a respectable power play. They snuffed out every Buffalo man-advantage.

But it took until last night to get their legs going in the first period, to establish their best forecheck of the series, take the game to the Sabres rather than have it taken to them, only to be left with having to rally back with second- and third-period surges.

“We definitely feel fortunate to have gotten a couple of those wins,’’ said winger Blake Wheeler, noting the rallies from 2-0 deficits. “Anytime that happens, it’s a bonus. And that last game in Buffalo, they took us by storm. So from the start [of Game 6], we knew what to expect — we jumped back at them, based on that last game.’’

“That’s something we talked about before the game, not getting behind,’’ added goalie Tuukka Rask. “And personally, I thought a couple of times I let in goals that were too easy, and that let them get the lead. So it was good to get out front.’’

Things look so much better with a lead. Mistakes look so much smaller. And the Bruins made two giant boo-boos that led to Buffalo goals. The first was a Dennis Wideman tape-to-tape pass to Buffalo forward Adam Mair that led to Patrick Kaleta’s goal in the second period, cutting the Boston lead to 2-1.

The other was a mindless, and maddening, Michael Ryder backhand dish into his defensive slot, leaving ex-BC star Nathan Gerbe with an easy pot to cut Boston’s lead to 3-2 with 7:40 gone in the third.

Two gargantuan mistakes. Both of them unforced errors. But with the Bruins having established the lead, neither goal brought the Sabres so much as a tie. Such is the power of getting in front.

“It’s always tough when you’re chasing from behind,’’ said winger Milan Lucic, who added a pair of assists, his own game finally showing signs of postseason recovery. “Everyone was thinking that it was going to catch up with us, and it sure did in Game 5. But we came out [last night] with better execution, more determination. I don’t know, it just seemed we were hesitant and laid-back in Game 5 and Buffalo took it to us. Clearly, we wanted to keep it simple, establish the forecheck, be strong on the puck all night.’’

Series No. 1 is in the books. Last year, brimming with confidence after sweeping the Habs in Round 1, the Bruins stumbled and bumbled their way out of the playoffs with a disappointing Game 7 loss to the Hurricanes. It’s on to Round 2 with the comfort of having learned how to survive the discomfort of slow starts. Now they find if there was value in that lesson.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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