The Boston Bruins dropped game five of their best-of-seven series with the Washington Capitals 4-3 at TD Garden on Saturday afternoon. The Caps lead the series three games to two and head home for a shot at eliminating the defending champs in D.C. on Sunday.
After twice tying the game in the second half, recovering from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2, a late penalty to Benoit Pouliot put the Caps on the powerplay; eventually setting up Troy Brouwer’s game-winning goal off the rush with under a minute and a half to go in the third. It was disappointing and disheartening. The B’s face a quick turnaround and a game less than a day later in Washington – with the sobering possibility of ending their season without even returning to home ice for game seven.
It’s an unexpected turn for a team which many believed would cruise through the Caps quickly. However, Dale Hunter has his team playing sound defensive hockey and committing to shot-blocking and counter-punching which has visibly frustrated the Bruins throughout this series and game five.
There were still some positive signs in game five: David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand all broke out of their slumps to grab their first points of the 2012 postseason. Despite failing to convert, Tyler Seguin was all over the puck creating chances. With a Johnny Boychuk blast, the Black and Gold tallied their first man-advantage marker of the playoffs. The B’s outhit, outshot and won more faceoffs than their opposition.
Unfortunately, these were overshadowed by negatives: Tim Thomas failed to save a Brouwer’s game-winning shot – a shot he handles 99 times out of 100. The Bruins didn’t clear the zone well and defensive lapses lead to a few of the goals against. Seguin, Krejci and others had outstanding chances in high-threat areas and failed to cash in. The B’s fourth-line forwards and third-pairing defense were on the ice together for another Washington goal Saturday afternoon.
Even worse, the Bruins’ Joe Corvo and Patrice Bergeron spent much of the second half on the bench due to injuries they suffered earlier in the game. If either is unable to go (but particularly Bergeron) the B’s road to game seven will be that much steeper.
While Claude Julien’s faith in his players is commendable, he needs to minimize (or preferably, eliminate) the times the team’s bottom-pairing defensemen are on the ice with the Merlot Line (the B’s fourth forward unit). The combination invites exploitation from the opposition: We’ve seen several times where this has resulted in disaster or near-disaster for the B’s.
The B’s must raise their effort level if they have any ideas about winning out and advancing to the conference semis. It was painfully obvious how they could be playing in the late second period when a Dennis Seidenberg goal (their first of the game) sparked a run of feverish and inspired play that eventually brought the B’s back to even from 2-0 down. If they bring that kind of intensity over the course of a period or more, it’s not hard to see them scoring multiple goals.
Additionally, the B’s need to continue to get to the front of the net to screen Holtby and set up for second-chance opportunities (Marchand cashed in on one for his first of the playoffs). The Bruins have not fared well in the offensive end through five games against Washington. Three times they’ve been held to one goal and are averaging under two per sixty minutes.
After the loss Pouliot spoke of the B’s attempts to raise the degree of difficulty for the Caps’ freshman goaltender: “We were trying to get in front of him…We know we have to do that. We get a lot of shots every game we just have to create a little more traffic.”
Nevertheless, Boston must rebound, and quickly. With just over 21 hours from the end of game five until the start of game six, there will be little time to nurse the wounded and analyze the X’s and O’s.
Following the game, Boychuk said: “You don’t have any time to think about what you could have done differently … you just have to worry about what you can do tomorrow.”
Perhaps that’s the best news of all. The ultra-quick turnaround forces the team to quickly forget about their failures in game five and focus on forcing a seventh game.
The Bruins possess the experience, talent and poise to recover from this deficit. They were one of the best road teams in the League in 2011-12. Their struggling scorers are beginning to turn things around (Tyler Seguin is the living embodiment of due). This hill is nowhere near impossible to climb.
They have no more mulligans, no more do-overs. Failure tomorrow would conclude their Cup defense and put a sour and abrupt ending on a memorable season. The Bruins have the skill to win and stave off elimination. Sunday, we’ll find out if they have the will.
Bob is a Boston Bruins Correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He lives in the Boston Metro Area with his wife, Amanda and their five-year-old son, Cormac.