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Better, but still not good enough

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / May 13, 2010

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PHILADELPHIA — The Bruins didn’t do a lot with the puck last night, but they were better with it as the game went on, which is some measure of consolation for a team that now must play a seventh game in a series it almost (should have?) ended in a four-game sweep.

“A lot of times,’’ said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, moments after the Flyers’ 2-1 win, which evened the best-of-seven series at three wins apiece, “we closed them in their zone. But that doesn’t matter if you don’t score.’’

Which is exactly why the Bruins are now in their playoff pickle. After winning the first three games, they have chased their advantage right to the brink of elimination, for the most part because they once again look like the team that finished next-to-last in goal scoring during the regular season.

The moment David Krejci left the series, early in Game 3 with a dislocated wrist, their offensive game began drifting away. If not for Milan Lucic’s goal last night, with 60 seconds left and Tuukka Rask pulled for an extra attacker, they would be headed into Game 7 with a pair of shutouts and an even bigger hole in their confidence.

“I don’t think we generated too many scoring chances,’’ said Lucic, although noting that his club actually outshot the Flyers, 31-27. “A lot of them were outside chances. It’s important [tomorrow night] we get traffic to the net and take [the goalie’s] vision.’’

Some numbers to consider amid the meltdown:

■The Bruins fired a lot more pucks (79) toward the net than the Flyers (43). But while that advantage is striking, the result was that 31-27 tally for shots that made it to the net. The Flyers blocked 30 shots, while the Bruins snuffed out only 10.

■The Bruins won 61 percent of the faceoffs, providing the kind of puck possession that allowed them to crank up those 79 shots. But for all the possession and all the shots attempted, they still left here with only Lucic’s goal. They also didn’t force Flyers goalie Michael Leighton, making his first career playoff start, to make more than three or four quality stops.

“We did have more shots coming from the defensive corps,’’ said Johnny Boychuk, who generated three of the 15 shots Boston’s blue liners landed on Leighton. “A couple of times that led to rebounds down there, but we just needed someone to tip them in. We’ve got to get guys to get on those loose pucks and swing off a defenseman for scoring chances.’’

Will that be any easier in Boston? Perhaps. Coach Claude Julien will be better able to steer his few scoring assets around a Flyer defense that has tightened up its play in the neutral zone and the back end.

But it has been clear the last three games that the Flyers have a better, deeper, more proficient bunch of forwards, even without the injured likes of Jeff Carter (their No. 1 goal scorer in the regular season) and Ian Laperriere (their No. 1 grit guy). Once Simon Gagne returned from toe surgery for Game 4 (when he potted the OT winner), they have consistently been more of a presence in the offensive end, while the Bruins, without Krejci, have struggled to find flow and generate real scoring threats.

“I thought the first 10 minutes tonight they really took it to us,’’ said Julien. “But after that, we settled in and played hard.’’

Hard, true, but not with the kind of possession and poise that added up to pucks over the goal line. In fact, Rask made four saves in the opening five minutes of the second period that were top-notch, holding the deficit at one goal. He also made a brilliant save on a Ville Leino penalty shot at 12:39 of the third, keeping the score at 2-0. Rask was not perfect (Danny Briere’s goal in the second beat him on the short side), but he lived up to the Goalie’s Credo — keep your club in the game, right to the very end.

If the Bruins get the same effort tomorrow night, they’ll almost surely be eliminated, because the same effort from the forwards won’t be nearly enough to beat Leighton, no matter how much rust he must still shake. Other than the energy line of Steve Begin-Trent Whitfield-Shawn Thornton, all of Boston’s forwards lacked the pluck, jam, and finish it takes to win in the playoffs. Too much regular-season Bruins in their games.

“We played better today,’’ said Lucic. “We were better on the forecheck, better getting pucks in deep, not turning them over at the blue line. If a couple of bounces had gone our way . . . ’’

But it’s not the time to be waiting for Lady Luck to come walking through that door with the big spoked-B across the front. That’s not how it works at this time of the year. Even with Krejci, one of their top three skilled forwards, this is not a finesse team. Faceoff wins are great. Puck possession is key. None of those elements existed in Monday’s lackluster 4-0 loss at the Garden, which makes last night’s effort an improvement.

However, without forwards muscling to the corners, driving to the net, refusing to be shouldered and bull-rushed away from the posts, it’s a team that stands only 60 minutes from packing bags and heading home for the summer.

“Everyone understands the difficult challenge an 0-3 series presents,’’ said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, asked what it would be like to pull off the improbable. “Any time you have a chance to put your name next to a positive mark in history . . . certainly it would be a good thing.’’

Game 7 tomorrow night at the Garden. The Bruins must be better, or the only good they’ll know will be good riddance.

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

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