The playoffs are all about buzzwords and catch phrases: pressure, backs against the wall, desperation. They fall to the ground like candy from a piñata. They are pertinent, sure, but when things are going bad, they are the crutch a player holds onto in trying to explain what happened to this once-golden opportunity.
So it was in the Bruins dressing room after Monday’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, in which they were drubbed by the Flyers 4-0 (click here for the full recap) as Philadelphia kept its season alive and forced a Game 6 at the Wachovia Center on Wednesday.
“Desperation, I think. We weren't desperate enough,” Milan Lucic said. “They were more desperate than we were. They won puck battles, they won puck races. They were doing the things that we did when we won games. So that is why they won the last two games. If we want to win we have to start being more desperate.”
Instead of desperation, why don't we use the real word for the Bruins Monday woes: energy.
A team can’t expect to close out a playoff series if it comes out of the gate for a potential series-clinching victory like a fat grizzly about to head into hibernation. If the Bruins do not snap out of the funk that showed up in Game 5, then the suddenly buzzing Flyers are going to steamroll through Games 6 and 7. And Boston is going to be left wondering how the hell it got into that situation in the first place after being up 3-0.
Lucic admitted that the team may have been a touch overconfident after taking the first three games.
“It seems like we are right now,” Lucic said. “I mean, there’s still a job that need to be done and everyone says that the fourth [win] is the hardest, and it’s proven to be like that now.
“I’m not going to take anything away from them, they’ve played great the last few games. But we haven’t played nearly up to par to where we need to be to win that fourth game.”
Here is the Hat Trick of lessons that a lack of energy and execution taught us on Monday:
STEP BEHIND, GO TO THE BOX
Hockey 101: What happens when the other team outworks you all night and you’re constantly a step behind, as your opponent has more energy on the puck than you do?
You take penalties and go to the box, sapping your team of momentum.
The Bruins took 10 penalties for 22 minutes in Game 5. It started poorly and only got worse as the game moved along. The steps Boston found themselves behind turning into strides, to leaps. Granted, a couple of those penalties may have been on the mysterious side, but once a team shows that it is penalty prone on the night the referees tend to not give them the benefit of the doubt.
“They wanted it more than us and weren't on our toes and we were taking penalties because of it,” Mark Recchi said. “That is the bottom line.
“We were getting hemmed in our own zone and we have to be better at that too. Hey, I’m disappointed. We all are. We will get some good video [Tuesday] on what we need to do and make some adjustments. And the one thing I think we all know is that we can be better as individuals and we will all be fine.”
Coach Claude Julien loves to talk about his players moving their feet and sometimes his rhetoric can wear thin. But in the playoffs when everything is magnified, stuff like “moving your feet” becomes more pertinent. That’s because it’s coach-speak for hustle, hustle, hustle. If player do not move their feet, they are not hustling and they get caught for tripping, slashing, interference and high-sticking penalties.
“I’ve always told our players, ‘When your feet aren’t moving, the rest of the game won’t come,’” Julien said. “You can’t be expecting to make plays when you don’t have the energy, you’re not skating. Most of the time when that happens, everything else follows. Again, that energy level wasn’t there so nothing else was going to follow.”
Once the Flyers got ahead on the scoreboard in the first period by a hustle goal from Ville Leino, it started to go downhill pretty quick to the point that the Bruins entered the third down by a goal.
NO ENERGY, NO CHALLENGE
It is not like the Flyers were being completely outplayed in the first three games. Coach Peter Laviolette insists that Philadelphia distinctly outplayed Boston in Game 3, but that was the one that the Flyers lost 4-1.
“We ended up losing Game 3. I thought we played a better game, but that doesn’t mean anything,” Laviolette said. “You have to win hockey games. The only thing you can take from it is confidence that your team it playing well.
“I think tonight was our best effort. We go back home and try to be better that we were tonight.”
So, now that the Flyers are back in the series, they are starting to play more of their instigator game. So, in the fifth game of the series, things really started to get chippy on both sides. Before Monday the worst of the scrums was the odd Daniel Carcillo/Marc Savard so-called biting incident.
But Game 5 was a battle outside of the battle. Several times a player would hit someone without the puck and hit them again the player got up and skated away. Mark Stuart was all over Claude Giroux in the first period. Vladimir Sobotka had some physical play for Mike Richards and Marc Savard has definitely not made any friends with Arron Asham.
The biggest player in this equation though might be Savard. When he gets a step behind — as he was on most of Wednesday — he definitely gets chippy without exactly being physical. He crashed the net in the second period, bowling over a Flyers player on his way to smothering goaltender Brian Boucher, who had been in the butterfly.
Boucher was squeezed and the wings of his butterfly were snapped off. Or, more appropriately, his right knee. Initial reports are Boucher has a severely sprained knee and the likelihood that he will return from something like that at this point in the season is minimal. Michael Leighton came in the game, a goaltender who had not seen action since March 16 because of a high ankle sprain.
And the Bruins did nothing.
While the Flyers continued to crash the net and hustle, adding three goals on a slam from Scott Hartnell, a rebound by Simon Gagne and then an atrocious turnover/breakaway by Gagne from Dennis Wideman, the Bruins did nothing. Boucher went out after facing nine shots through 24:31 and Leighton came in and stuffed the Bruins final 14 attempts through the final 35:29.
It was a prime opportunity to put the series away — the Flyers had a goaltender coming back from injury who was thrown into the mix in the worst possible situation. It was not that Leighton played extraordinarily well. The Bruins just didn’t challenge him.
“We got a couple on him and they weren't very good ones,” Recchi said. “It just shows the whole game today and how it went for us. Let's just hope this is the worst one we are going to see and get it out of our way and have a good practice tomorrow and make some good adjustments and realize that we are in a dogfight now and go up to Philly and see how we do.”
SECONDARY SCORING A STEP AHEAD
Boston is not getting anything from its bottom two lines in the last two games, while some of the Flyers players who had not been producing are starting to come around.
Take Leino. He has been the hardest-working man on the ice the last two games and has two hustle goals to show for it. The lamp-lighters have been hard-hat types — tip-ins and deflections. If they were replayed in high resolution at a slow frame rate, it might prove that he never actually touched those pucks (one from Pronger in Game 4 that he barely touched and another that was originally Hartnell’s in Game 5).
At the same time, Hartnell got back into the mix. He banged home a puck that Danny Briere crashed the net and flipped over Tuukka Rask’s shoulder.
“[Leino] was excellent … I think [Hartnell] has played two of his best games in a row and [Briere] has been good for some time now,” Laviolette said. “They got into the offensive zone and they were cycling the puck and they were moving for each other.
“There seems to be a little bit of chemistry there. Lines seem to be changing a little bit every day based on injuries and things that are going on with our team. They’ve been put together and they’ve done a good job in the offensive zone,” he added. “You’ve got some guys on his line that can score goals, so it has been a good combination for us.”
At the same time, Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler, two supposed scorers, have been nowhere to be found in Games 4 and 5. Their center Vladimir Sobotka has been outmatched when put up against the Briere and Richards’ lines.
The Bruins are going to need to find a way to get back the hustle that has served the Flyers unsung forwards well the last two games. Add the good play of Leino with the productive return of Gagne and Boston has some significant issues to address before the start of Game 6.