Funny how perception can change come playoff time with the Bruins.
Two weeks before the playoffs, the perception was that Boston was limping toward the finish line. The perception was that the Bruins had no identity and their top two wingers on their top line weren’t producing.
Their top-line center was underperforming.
Given the chance to win the division outright and gain the No. 2 seed in the East with a win, the Bruins were a no-show on home ice against the Senators on the last night of the regular season and lost. They had to settle for fourth seed and a first-round match up with the Maple Leafs.
The Bruins had many more questions than answers heading into the postseason, at least as many questions a team can have considering their were one of the top three teams in the East for most of the season.
Two games into their series, some of those questions still remained. The Bruins gave up too many odd-man rushes and defensive breakdowns in a 4-2 loss on home ice to Toronto.
But then Games 3 and 4 happened to the Bruins and you can feel the difference.
“I know the perception was that we were struggling,” coach Claude Julien said. “I’ve said before that I thought our team was turning the corner in the final two weeks. The results weren’t there but I could sense it.”
David Krejci led the way in Game 4 with his second career hat trick and suddenly the Bruins had their mojo back. If the Bruins can get out of Krejci half of what they got out of him in the 2011 postseason, they’re in business.
Why? Because the feeling is that if Krejci produces, the rest of the top line of Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton will surely follow.
Julien was asked Friday morning about the league-wide perception of Krejci as an underrated player.
“I don’t know how he’s perceived, but I know that he quietly goes about doing his job,” Julien said. “As I mentioned the other night, he’s always been a real good playoff performer for us, he seems to thrive in those situations. As you mentioned, maybe somewhere else, but in our surroundings and in our dressing room he’s certainly not underrated.”
Most importantly, the Bruins went into Game 4 knowing that a win after showing their muscle in Game 3 would not only give them a 3-1 lead heading back home, it would go a long way toward convincing themselves that they’re capable of another deep run.
“I think we just have to play our game as we have in the past few games here and not be thinking about closing the series more than playing our game as good as we can, and I think the results will come,” Tuukka Rask added.
“You know the other team is going to throw everything at you because it’s do-or-die for them. So, you kind of have to take the same mentality. If you slip even a little bit, you give the other team life then they’re going to take advantage of that. I think that’s the challenge we’re facing, too. We have to approach the game like it’s a do-or-die game for us.”
The Bruins are battered (Chris Kelly, Daniel Paille and Milan Lucic) and bruised (Johnny Boychuk, Patrice Bergeron and Wade Redden). But their perception of things right now is a lot different after two road wins than it was heading into Toronto Monday night.
"It's part of it, it's part of the game," Kelly said, still sporting 10 stitches below his right eye from Wednesday night's Game 4. "Those things happen. But if you look around, lots of guys have scratches and cuts on their face. It's part of the game. The little things add up to the big things. If you look, it takes a lot of little things in order to score a goal. In order to win a game, you need to consistently do those little things and to win a series. Game in and game out, those little things have to be accomplished."
And the fans should feel differently, too. They should feel like this group gets it.
This is a team with a core that knows how to flip the switch in the playoffs. They haven’t always turned it on in time, with 2010 and last year against the Capitals serving as stark reminders.
But the core of this team is tested. They’ve taken hits and bounced back.
“Well, it’s been physical, there’s no doubt about it,” Claude Julien said of the series with the Leafs before Game 5. “I think everybody realizes that it’s been a hard, clean, physical series. There hasn’t been that many cheap shots, or there wasn’t that many cheap shots, so far. That’s the way, I think, both teams have played. As much as there’s a serious competition here, there’s also a mutual respect between the two teams, respects the fact that both sides are playing hard right now; that includes us as much as the Leafs that maybe surprised a lot of people with their play.
“I’m going to tell you right now, I think our team’s played well, played hard, so have they. That’s why they’ve been tight games throughout the whole series. It’s physical. As far as the nature of hits, it depends; obviously in Toronto the hit column seemed real elevated. So it depends how they see a hit and they haven’t been as high over here, so you take it for what it’s worth sometimes.
Julien spoke for his team when asked if he perceives that his team has a killer instinct.
“I can only speak for us right now, we’re ready for this game,” Julien said before Game 5. “There’s no excuses. We know they’re going to come out and give their best, we have to do the same thing from our end of it. I think it’s pretty important that we come out ready to play hard and understand that desperation does a lot of things for teams.”
There’s the perception that the Bruins are in the driver’s seat. And they are. But it’s Julien’s job to make sure that seat isn’t comfortable.
“Sometimes it’s not just about what we’re doing wrong, but more what the other team is doing right,” Julien repeated. “This series isn’t over. I’m not afraid to give credit, they’ve played well. From our end of it, a team that’s supposedly favored to win, we have the tendency to want to look at our team like we’re maybe underperforming, but we’re not. We’ve played some solid hockey and so have they. That’s why it’s a good series.”
Now to the Trags Bag for a sampling from Bruins fans on their feeling about the Bruins going forward.
@oldtimebasebal1 Trags Superb Confident play of Rask and the 1st line playing like the 1st like again.
@drjefflo I would rather have the #Bruins "on edge" than relaxed. Game 5 is must win unless they want to go 7.