TAMPA – We’ve gotten to know the Bruins pretty well over the 99 games they have played this season. No. 100 could be their last.
By now, there’s plenty written in the book of the 2010-11 Boston Bruins. They have the best goaltender in the league. They have the kid who sits, plays, sits, plays on the fourth line, sits, dominates, slows down and returns to the fourth line. They lose games in the second period at St. Pete Times Forum. Boy, oh boy, do they lose games in the second period at St. Pete Times Forum.
After their Game 6 loss to the Lightning Wednesday, a game in which David Krejci and the first line dominated while the team struggled to stop Tampa’s power play, it isn’t about what everyone knows about them. It’s about what they know.
The Bruins need to know where they stand, and appreciate that it isn’t the same song they’ve sung the city of Boston in recent years. If they lose, it won’t just be another second-round exit or another elimination by the Canadiens. This team has thrown away the Big Bad Book of Bruins Bummers and made Boston believe that they would bring the city its next championship.
Now, after failing to close out the Lightning in Tampa (see above for more on the Bruins losing games in the second period at St. Pete Times Forum), the Bruins have to make Game 7 their friend, just like they did after blowing a third-period lead to the Habs and still getting by on a Nathan Horton overtime series-clincher in the first round.
“You've got to be excited for it, you've got to enjoy it, and you've got to be looking forward to that challenge,” Milan Lucic said after the game, “because for almost all of us, it's the biggest game of our careers."
The Bruins should have viewed Game 6 the same way, and Lucic was clearly a player who was. He played one of his best games in a relatively quiet postseason, and scored the Bruins’ first goal to tie it in the first period. In the Bruins’ last six games in which they could eliminate an opponent and move on, Lucic has six goals. He seems to know where he is, and what he needs to do.
“He was skating tonight. It's as simple as that,” Claude Julien said of Lucic, who has three goals this postseason after leading the B’s with 30 in the regular season. “When he skates and comes at you hard, certainly puts everybody on their heels. I thought he was skating well tonight and created the stage for himself and also created some turnovers for the hockey club, and that was a big difference maker as far as that line was concerned. It made a whole lot of difference.”
But not enough difference. The top line’s shift that followed David Krejci’s third goal of his hat trick performance was so overpowering that it didn’t seem a matter of if, but when, they would break a pretty weak-performing Dwayne Roloson for the fifth time on the night. It didn’t come, though, as Krejci and Horton both induced gasps from how close they came to tying it, but couldn’t. It was nice for the Bruins to see their top line stand out, but Friday can’t be about one line doing it and the rest staying off the sheet. It has to be about the B’s preventing Tampa’s power play, which scored three times Wednesday, from being a factor. It also has to be about Tim Thomas victimizing the Lightning like he did in Game 5. It has to be about showing Boston something it isn’t used to seeing.
The Bruins may not have the biggest fan base in Boston, but theirs is undoubtedly the most passionate. Either way, the diehards around Boston will find something to be excited about after Friday, though the word "eventually" comes into play with the unhappy ending. If they win, it’s a trip to the Stanley Cup finals. If they lose, it’s a trip to the podium at Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota to announce the ninth pick of the 2011 NHL draft.
Behind one door is a vaunted Vancouver team that, like the Bruins, has gone 7-3 at home in the postseason and would have the advantage of home ice in 4 of a potential seven games. Thomas would have the opportunity to go up against one of the best goalies in the game, and Cam Neely (sort of) would see his team take on the team that traded him way back when.
Behind the other door is another dose of “wait til next year.” Maybe it will be a goal-scoring winger. Oh, imagine him on a line with Tyler Seguin! It would be the line of the future. Boy, Brian Burke will really regret that Phil Kessel trade when he sees those two in action.
Bruins fans don’t need to weight those options for two long. Either way, their team has that draft pick. It’s just a matter of whether that draft pick suddenly becomes their primary concern. What are the chances B’s fans would rather start getting excited for the former? That first option is a lot shinier. As shiny as the Stanley Cup.