THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

No results, and there is no excuse

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / April 17, 2011

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With 10 minutes to play, the soft, murmuring Sound of Resignation had spread over the sellout crowd of 17,565.

The fans had not bailed physically, but they had bailed emotionally. The Bruins had let them down — again. All they had left was the hope of seeing themselves mugging on the big screen, and for many, that alone signifies a successful trip to TD Garden.

But the crowd energy was gone. The Bruins were down, 3-1, and that’s the way it would remain.

How dead was it? Even that guy with the polka-dot hat who dances around at every Bruins and Celtics game could barely get out of his seat.

The Bruins aren’t dead yet, but they are in the ER. Now they must go to Montreal and do something they have not been able to do this season, and that is win a game at the Bell Centre. Worse, they will have to win two.

This is a critical postseason for the Boston Bruins. They have become colossal teases, of interest only to their diehard fans. Two years ago, they piled up 116 points in the regular season before expiring in the second round in front of those heathen fans from North Carolina. Last year? Wow. Is it necessary to recap the history-making series with the Flyers?

Anyone who cares knows exactly what happened. But what’s relevant now is that the loss last evening runs the postseason losing streak to six, and that means a noose is tightening around the neck of coach Claude Julien. Should the Bruins allow nature to take its course and drop the upcoming pair of games in Montreal, it means a change must be made.

Nor would that necessarily be the only sacking. It is Year 5 for general manager Peter Chiarelli. The Jacobs people will surely hold him accountable for some of this.

The question entering these playoffs was whether or not the Bruins were worth an investment by the casual fan. The loyalists will always care, but when you’re the only Big Four franchise in town (no offense, Revs) that hasn’t had a parade in the past decade, and when you haven’t won a championship in 39 years or even been to the Finals in 21, you need to do something to earn your place at the table.

Many experts outside Boston liked their chances. More than one pundit had identified them as the Eastern Conference champions, which might say more about the lack of true quality teams in the East, but which did put a little extra pressure on this team — and the coach — to perform.

Much of that was based on the stellar regular-season play of goalie Tim Thomas, plus the ongoing excellence of Big Z, Zdeno Chara, one of the game’s elite defensemen. In a rather startling development, Chara did not play last night. He practiced Friday, but spent the night in the hospital because of “dehydration.’’ It was all very fuzzy.

So when all three Montreal goals were triggered by giveaways from a Boston defenseman not named Chara, the rush-to-judgment set figured they had the story of the game. But there is no possible way to reconstruct a hockey game so as to put those three pucks on Chara’s stick at those three moments. Chara can always have a positive influence on a game. But his absence was not the reason the Bruins lost. That would be a monstrously bogus excuse.

The Bruins are losing because Montreal goalkeeper Carey Price is bringing at least an A-minus game and because the Canadiens have been classically opportunistic when the Bruins have made mistakes. The Bruins are also losing because their big moment has come and they are in retreat.

What’s galling to fans who know their stuff is that the Bruins are not even losing to a good team. They are losing to a team that was a sixth seed on merit, an almost unrecognizable Canadiens team that doesn’t even have a 30-goal scorer, and has only three 20-goal scorers.

Yogi Berra is alleged to have said in reference to baseball that “90 percent of this game is half-mental.’’ In the Bruins case, we might have to raise that estimate to 99.

Would you not think that a team that had given up a goal at home before the three-minute mark in Game 1 would be extra vigilant in Game 2? Last night it took the Habs 43 seconds to score. The second goal was interesting, too, since it came six seconds into a power play, just 2:20 into the game.

That’s right, they were down, 2-0, before the game was 2 1/2 minutes old.

Is “unthinkable’’ an appropriate word to describe this?

That being the case, why should anyone invest emotionally in this team? They are simply not reliable.

Frankly, who cares what they have to say about it? Of course, they are disappointed. Of course, they are shocked. Of course, they did some good things, but, you know, they just can’t catch a break. Of course, they need to score first in the next game. Of course, they’ve been a good road team, so they won’t lack confidence. Of course, we know we are better than this.

And let’s not forget that, in addition to everything else, “The goalie was standing on his head, eh?’’

Well, no. He really hasn’t had to. But someone will feel obligated to say it anyway.

Losing those final four games to Philadelphia (capped off by the gruesome Game 7) and losing these two games here does not make them bad people. But it makes them underachieving people, and it is very tempting to connect the dots and ask if they are close to having the kind of makeup teams need to win championships.

This isn’t as dire as losing, 19-8, to fall behind the Yankees, 3-0. But given what is sure to be the overheated climate up there in the wake of the Chara/Max Pacioretty incident, this is as close to expected extinction the NHL has to offer.

If the Bruins have some inner resolve, if they have some spunk, if they have even a hint of the qualities we associate with a championship team — and around here we know what that means — we don’t want to hear about it.

We want to see it.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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