Wanted: A whole lot more desire
That EZ Pass to the Eastern Conference finals? The express route to a championship parade? All of a sudden, summer’s approaching and the livin’ ain’t so easy for the Stanley Cup-bound Bruins, who were expected to show up on Garden ice last night looking to close out the Flyers and instead were marked absent in all the essential areas — energy, execution, and intelligence.
“I think it’s desperation,’’ said Boston winger Milan Lucic, who had two shots on net, making him one of the more present individuals in a Black-and-Gold sweater. “We weren’t desperate. They won the puck battles. They won the puck races. If we want to win, we have to start playing more desperate hockey.’’
Last night, simply playing would have been a start, then perhaps desperation might have factored somewhere in Boston’s dysfunctional, shapeless game. The Bruins were no-shows in front of the net, no-shows along the wall, and no-shows when it came to thinking the game, maintaining discipline. It is always hard to win in the playoffs, that struggle making for the Cup chase’s inherent beauty, but it’s all the harder when one team (the Flyers) gets eight licks on the power play and the other (the Bruins) gets only two.
And, no, officiating was not a factor. The Bruins were just bad, unable to prevent the Flyers forwards from whizzing around Tuukka Rask and were virtually bereft of developing plays when the puck was in the front half of the ice. They botched plays, took penalties, lost opportunities — the biggest of all their failure to cobble a sustained attack on goalie Michael Leighton, who took over for injured starter Brian Boucher at 4:35 of the second period.
Leighton hadn’t seen action since March 18, sidelined by a troublesome ankle sprain. When the night was over, he hadn’t seen much more than he had over the last seven weeks. For that matter, he might have seen more while confined to the couch, playing video hockey during his recovery and rehab. The Bruins peppered him with only 14 shots over his 35:25 in net.
“When your feet aren’t moving, the rest of your game won’t come,’’ said Boston coach Claude Julien, not about to try to sugarcoat one stinker of a night. “Our energy level wasn’t there . . . so nothing else was going to follow.’’
Well, it’s desperate now. If the Bruins, now leading only three-games-to-two, end up losing this series, it will be the first time in franchise history they have bombed out after taking a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven set. If they lose this series, they will be one of three teams in Stanley Cup history to go from 3-love to summer vacation.
“They wanted it more than us,’’ said right winger Mark Recchi, confirming that energy, execution, and intelligence were in short supply. “We weren’t on our toes, and we were hemmed in our own end all the time because we weren’t committed. I hope this is the worst we are going to see . . . get it out of the way and move on.’’
The lethargy, apparent from the start, had the Bruins behind by a goal with only 6:41 gone in the first. Scott Hartnell banged in the 2-0 lead with an even-strength strike midway through the second, by which time it was abundantly clear that the series would be headed back to Philly for Game 6 tomorrow night.
The 0-2 deficit seemed the perfect time for a timeout, a chance for Julien to call his chargeless charges to the bench, ask for the building’s ridiculous (read: insulting) music to be turned off, then treat his players and the full house to a blue streak the envy of Richard Pryor on the video. But the moment was lost. Puck down, and with it the Bruins — right down the drain.
“Hard to explain, or to find the words for it,’’ said captain Zdeno Chara, summing up a night in which the home team turned the Garden into its own little shop of horrors. “We are not playing with the composure that we did in the first round.’’ Later, Big Z added, “All of a sudden, it’s tough for us to make plays.’’
Making plays first requires moving feet. The next issue is decision-making, followed by moving the puck to the open man, getting the puck to the net, and mounting some pluck and jam around the crease. None of that factored into the final game summary for the Bruins. They did enjoy a decent advantage at the faceoff dot (31-22), which usually indicates puck control, but that offered no real indication of how the night played out. The Bruins lost by four goals, and it felt more like 40.
A wake-up call?
“It better be,’’ said Lucic. “We had a 3-0 lead in this series. We have to take advantage of the situation.’’
That will be all the harder at Wachovia Center, where the Flyers will have their rabid fan base howling, and a coach, Peter Laviolette, better able to manipulate line changes and pairings because of the home-ice advantage. The biggest edge for the Flying Ps right now, even though they remain in that 3-2 disadvantage in the series, is that they have the momentum.
Meanwhile, the Bruins remain in the awkward state of chasing their own lead. Which is what happens to teams when they show up and chase nothing else.