BOSTON – The morning before the Bruins opened their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the New York Rangers, coach Claude Julien took issue with the perception that Boston’s closer-than-expected series victory over Toronto was a sign of trouble.
“For some reason, this last series seems to have been looked upon as negative for some people,” Julien said. “For us, it was a great character win, we’re looking forward to moving ahead and we’re not looking at it the way a lot of people are looking at it.
“It’s not a chance to redeem yourself because we’re in the second round, we don’t have to redeem ourselves for anything. What we have to do here is look forward to this series and do whatever we can to move ahead. The character that this team showed in Game 7 should be looked upon as a positive. That’s the way I look at it.”
Fair enough, Claude, but character wins don’t count extra in the playoffs if your team doesn’t show up the next time out.
That, however, is exactly what the Bruins did.
Boston’s thrilling 3-2 overtime win over the Rangers in Game 1 certainly showed the character of the team – the character that had the Bruins looking like an early Cup favorite when the abbreviated 2013 season began. It showed up in the team’s resiliency throughout the game.
It showed up when spades when the Rangers scored with two seconds left in the second period and 14 seconds gone in the third to turn a 1-0 Boston lead into a 2-1 New York advantage. That could have been the beginning of a Ranger rout, the way Toronto’s two goals in the second period sparked the Maple Leafs’ 4-2 victory in Game 2.
“It was disappointing to say the least,” Julien said. “We gave them that goal with just little over a second left. … I dealt with that in the room. The biggest thing was we couldn’t dwell on that goal. We had to go out there and take the play back to them as we had before that goal, but then we gave them that goal right off the first shift. Again, we’ve been through that. We went through it with Toronto. Guys didn’t hang their heads; they just said, ‘let’s go get the next one.’ ”
And that’s what the Bruins did, with rookie defenseman Torey Krug scoring his first playoff goal to tie it less than three minutes after Derek Stepan had given the Rangers the lead.
“Timing is everything. I thought for Torey [Krug] to score that big goal for us – great timing,” Julien said. “We just seemed to take the momentum from that point on.”
The momentum isn’t always enough. A goal against the run of play can turn an entire series on its head, let alone a game, and while the Bruins certainly held the advantage throughout the third, they couldn’t convert that into a regulation win. Then, when the Rangers took a rare overtime penalty (Derek Dorsett’s interference of Rich Peverley), the Bruin power play, surprisingly, did just about everything right – except score a goal. The man-up units combined for an eight-shot barrage on Henrik Lundqvist, but couldn’t solve the all-world netminder.
“It’s overtime, you have to keep going, and you’d like to see that puck go in, especially with eight shots,” center Patrice Bergeron said. “But I thought we stayed with it. We got the momentum, and we created some offense off of it.”
Again, a power play that fires at will but never converts can be the death knell for a team – especially in overtime, where energy is at a premium, and it gets burned fast by the team with the man advantage.
Yet the Bruins never slowed down after the power play.
“It was a surge,” Ranger coach John Tortorella said. “We couldn’t stop it.”
The Boston character, which when it’s truly on display includes a strong attention to detail, showed in one more key play. It wasn’t the 2-on-1 goal by Brad Marchand off Bergeron’s feed to win the game, but the deft poke check by Zdeno Chara that set it up.
The Rangers were steaming into the Bruin zone on a 3-on-2. Derick Brassard tried to slide a pass across the ice to Rick Nash, who is pretty lethal from the spot where he would have received the pass, just inside the left wing faceoff circle. But Chara stuck his long stick into the passing lane – a routine defensive maneuver on a routine entry into the offensive zone – and deflected it behind Nash. From there, Marchand could pick the puck up, advance it to Bergeron, and sneak to the back door in time for the return feed and game-winning goal.
Chara’s play, Bergeron said, earned the Boston captain the Army Ranger jacket the team is using as an internal player of the game award, like the Starter jacket in 2011 and the chain and padlock last year.
“Just that detail at the end, it goes a long way,” Bergeron said. “The only reason we get that 2-on-1 is because of the poke check, and in the playoffs, details win games.”
Regardless of outside perception, the Bruins could draw a lot of positives from their escape act against Toronto. But now is the time to focus on the present, on Nash, Lundqvist, and the Rangers. The Toronto series might as well have happened a decade ago.
“I think [beating Toronto] gave us some confidence, it showed some of our character,” Bergeron said. “But also we’re trying to turn the page and worry about the Rangers.”