Whatever level of conviction you may want to apply, there indeed seems to be a dearth of positive mojo within the fandom of the Boston Bruins as they get set to open the 2013 NHL playoffs against the Toronto Maple Leafs Wednesday night. The Bruins head into the postseason only 6-7-1 over the last month, and the last time Boston beat a playoff team was way back on April 2, a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators.
It gets worse. From a scoring standpoint, the Bruins make the second-half Celtics look unstoppable. In 12 of its last 16 games, Boston has managed to score only a pair of goals, and the Bruins have won a grand total of three times over that stretch. The power play remains stuck in neutral, and the penalty-kill, which at one point was among this team’s strengths, has deteriorated into a crutch.
Flipping a switch is one thing. Asking this jumbled mess of offensive prowess to instantly morph into something they haven’t come close to being for the last two months is something else entirely.
The Bruins will go as far as Tuukka Rask can take them is the general refrain in picking the Bruins to win their first playoff series in two years, but what can Bruins fans reasonably expect? Rask isn’t Tim Thomas of 2011, and as we saw last spring, even Tim Thomas couldn’t be that guy again against the Washington Capitals, who downed the Bruins in seven games, each decision coming down to a single goal on either side. A year later, offense is still at a premium, and the signs that it might miraculously appear in time for the party seem like grasping at the short straws that Claude Julien utilizes to pick his line combinations.
After disappearing for the bulk of the shortened season, Milan Lucic reemerged for the stretch run at the end of the season, playing with a purpose that the Bruins had been missing. But to expect Lucic to be the force we all expect him to be seems foolhardy, especially when we remember his postseason run during the Stanley Cup year, which is to say an APB was submitted for his whereabouts most nights. Nathan Horton, slated to return to the ice tonight, has an impressive postseason resume, but hasn’t exactly been the dependable scorer the Bruins figured he might be this season, free from concussion symptoms and heading into free agency this summer. Tyler Seguin should be a force, yet his seeming insistence to not drive to the net has become maddening. Jaromir Jagr, such an encouraging addition at the trading deadline, has shown only flashes that he can be the missing piece that will extend this season into June. The way the Bruins plodded through the last month showed little urgency, flat-lining in the season’s biggest contests against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and failing to even capture the emotional energy in the days following the Boston Marathon bombings.
This may be Toronto’s first playoff appearance since 1945 (or something like that), but the Maple Leafs may just be the envy of the rest of the NHL, landing the schizophrenic Bruins in the first round.
“It isn’t the long shot some are making it out to be,” writes the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons. “The Leafs have a better power play than the Bruins, kill penalties better, have more offensive weapons especially if Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri play on three different lines. The question for Toronto is different than the question for Boston: Can the Leafs leave their lousy ending behind and find a new energy for the playoffs? If they do that, and can play the kind of hockey Randy Carlyle preached loudly at practice Tuesday, it isn’t out of the question that they go toe-to-toe with the Bruins.”
Not only is it not out of the question, Bruins fans should be prepared for it to go the distance.
The Maple Leafs have had their own late-season issues as well, and when it comes to the intangible of experience, only James van Riemsdyk has any level of what it’s like to go on a deep run. Kessel leaves his Prozac at home when he faces the Bruins, and James Reimer has allowed three or more goals in five of his last 11 games, including four against the Canadiens in his season finale.
But to expect Rask to be the primary reason the Bruins have a chance at the Cup is foolhardy. If the Bruins play at the level we’ve become accustomed to over the last six to eight weeks, no goalie should have that impossible burden thrust upon him. Two years ago, it took three Game 7’s to become the class of the NHL, an accomplishment that took domination in net, and maybe even a little luck.
That team also got angry in the end, a trait that led to an attitude adjustment that would ultimately define them.
We haven’t seen any semblance of that with this team. Frankly, since February, we haven’t seen much at all with this team.
Maple Leafs in seven.