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That’s Step One

Posted By Matt Preston On May 4 2013 @ 1:07 pm In Boston Bruins | No Comments

May 1, 2013. 6:31pm.

“@TheOnlyPresto: Real simple pre-game analysis for the B’s/Leafs: If the Bruins can’t drop the hammer tonight, abandon all postseason dreams.”

And put the hammer down the Boston Bruins did in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, heeding one scribe’s advice in an authoritative, 4-1 victory on Wednesday night.

Not that I am one to blow his own horn, but as a team that is beloved for its history of guts and guile, the Bruins had shown little to none of that through the regular season, and that just cannot happen if this team wants to have any kind of true postseason success.

The Bruins, on some levels, did have a strong regular season, finishing with the third best record in the Eastern Conference, just one point behind Montreal in the Northeast Division. Yet, third period collapse after third period collapse, what was once amongst the toughest, meanest teams in hockey began to look soft and whiney. Numerous times throughout the closing months of the regular season, the Bruins had games where a win would have given them the division or helped extend that lead. Every time they came up short.

The earmark of the Bruins from 2010-2012 was they never lost a two-goal or third period lead. The 2013 installment never seemed to be able to hold on to one. Their killer instinct was gone. And rather than bare down and grind out a win, the team seemed more content to just give excuses as to why they were not finishing games.

They were tired.

They were fatigued.

It was the condensed scheduled.

Now, however, it is playoff time and that nonsense just will not do. All 16 teams fortunate enough to make it to the postseason are tired, fatigued, banged up and have all played the same 48-game condensed schedule. Quite simply, if the Bruins do not play with that edge that made them famous, if Milan Lucic cannot be the ferocious beast that earned him that $6-million a year contract, but is going to be the wet-blanket who only scored just seven goals this season, if Nathan Horton cannot be the scorer he was in 2011’s playoff run, if the defense as is going to continue to lapse and be porous later in games, this team could be headed for another embarrassing, first-round exit. Never mind making a serious run at the Stanley Cup.

Fires will be lit in Boston. There is no doubt about that. The question is whether it will be one lit within the Boston Bruins or the collective torches of the team’s fan base. If the Bruins do not manage to make some sort of effort in this year’s playoffs and the team does not make it out of the first round, heads will be called for to roll.

The good news is the Bruins have taken that first step. They did come out and lay the hammer down on the Maple Leafs in Game 1. How long, however, will the inconsistent Bruins be able to carry that momentum? Boston could barely string together two strong weeks of hockey during the regular season, let alone the two months they will need to put together in order to get to the Conference or the Cup finals.

Boston does have a favorable match up against the Maple Leafs, a team they have dominated against in recent seasons, with just one loss to their division rival in the past two seasons. Game 2 this evening may be something of a different story, as both teams will make roster changes prior to the game. On Boston’s side, Rich Peverley looks to come down from the ninth floor to replace Kaspars Daugavins on the third line, while either Dougie Hamilton or Matt Bartkowski will get a turn in place of the suspended Andrew Ference. Toronto, on the other hand, who loaded up on grit and toughness to offset the Bruins in Game 1, may look to get a little more skill and flash on the ice to take advantage of Boston’s defensive changes.

As it has been with many teams in Boston’s recent history, the Bruins will only ever be able to go as far as their peak level performance can take them. At their best, the Bruins are amongst the best teams in hockey, able to stand up to the test of any opponent. Anything less than that, however, and most teams can laugh them off the ice. Easily handling the Leafs, as they should, could go a long way in helping Boston prepare for a solid, postseason run. We shall find out in the coming days if they can finally put the excuses away, man up and once again be the Big, Bad Bruins.

If not, it will be golf season in Boston.

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