Hide the sharp instruments, eh?
The Bruins had a seriously competitive top-four combination of defensemen for two games and about 10 minutes. Those two games were Ottawa and Edmonton, two of the most encouraging evenings of the season.
Ottawa was as complete a game as these Bruins have played. Edmonton was a lion-hearted comeback. Boston had traction, and the biggest reason was a foursome that could stop attacks and start them the other way: Leetch and Tanabe, Stuart and Boynton. With those two pair carrying most of the load, Hal Gill and Jiri Slegr began playing better in all three zones because their assignments were more appropriately matched to their abilities and strengths. There was a sense of chemistry throughout the team.
Then the test tube blew up.
Defenseman Nick Boynton lost an edge going into the corner to Hannu Toivonen’s right midway through the first period in Vancouver. Including when he was learning to skate as a little kid, Boynton probably has fallen like that a couple thousand times. But this time, in what only can be described as a freakish bad-luck injury, Boynton suffered a fractured kneecap. That’ll cost the Bruins his services for four to six weeks.
The problem is that, without Boynton or someone as good suddenly materializing, this team isn’t showing many signs that it will be in contention for a playoff spot six weeks from now.
The B’s couldn’t compete in the third period at Vancouver, getting outshot 15-2. Travel certainly was a factor working against the Bruins in that circumstance, but the Canucks’ depth was an even bigger factor.
Colorado started a goalie who never had played in the NHL. The Bruins couldn’t pressure him. Their problems were all too familiar: an inability to make the first pass out of the defensive zone with any consistency, failure to keep their feet moving (leading to serial penalty-taking), and an overall loss of confidence reflected by ineffective forechecking and an inability to stand up the Avs at either blue line.
At this writing, winger and leading scorer Sergei Samsonov’s status is not known. After suffering tingling and numbness in his upper extremities the day of the Vancouver game, he was held-out for precautionary reasons and flew to Boston for tests.
Hide the sharp instruments, eh?
Well, having enjoyed that two-game flash of thrills –- and having seen just how high they could climb if they played to that potential -– the Bruins are back on the slippery slope. But now, instead of trying to get their boots to find purchase on the ice-covered rocks, they are sliding so fast that they need a grappling hook.
Not that bad? Well, in the next seven days the Bruins will play just one game, Sunday against Phoenix. No doubt you’ve noticed that the B’s have played more games than just about every other team in the Eastern Conference. The enemies of Boston are about to play a bunch of those games in hand. So what was an eight-point gap between the Bruins and playoff position is almost certainly going to grow to ten. It may be twelve or more before they head west again on their Minnesota-Calgary trip.
They are depleted, they’re in a hole, and the abyss is going to get deeper.
To heck with it. Might as well start digging with fury: Play every shift as if it’s the last one they’ll ever play. Nothing short of playoff intensity will do. Anyone who doesn’t buy in gets shipped-out to Providence for someone who’s hungry, willing, and ready to skate with reckless abandon.
What seems, at first glance, to be a very complicated puzzle… is actually terrifically simple. Produce on every turn or make way for someone else to have the chance to do it.
Before they can begin the climb, the Bruins need to rage against the fall. The edge of the cliff is about two weeks away, and they are accelerating toward it.