BOSTON (CBS) — Maybe, after all, there really is a switch that teams can flip on once the postseason begins.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said multiple times over the past few weeks that there is no magic switch, and Claude Julien said the same, and I’m sure they both meant it. But what took place Wednesday night on Garden ice provided a very convincing argument to the contrary.
Despite falling behind early on a Toronto power-play goal just 1:54 into the game, the Bruins thoroughly dominated in every aspect of the game to win 4-1 and open up a 1-0 series lead. The Bruins responded to that goal by outshooting the Maple Leafs 10-3 in the 14 minutes that followed, with the hard work of the fourth line leading to Wade Redden’s slap-shot goal to tie the game. A little more than two minutes later, after Tuukka Rask got some help from the crossbar, Redden again fired a puck toward net. Nathan Horton redirected it past James Reimer, the Bruins took a 2-1 lead, and they never looked back.
Of course, there is no “magic switch,” but there’s no doubting that the Bruins team that took the ice in Game 1 — the team that controlled the puck, created and finished chances, prevented odd-man rushes and imposed their physicality every chance they got — was worlds apart from the team that’s hardly shown up in the second half of the season.
While the switch doesn’t exist, there is a lot to be said for knowing what to expect once the puck drops in the postseason. The Bruins entered the night with an advantage of more than 1,000 playoff games on their collective resume than the Leafs’, and in the Boston locker room after the game, that experience was where most players pointed.
“It’s a different brand of hockey,” Gregory Campbell said. “It’s the playoffs. It’s a lot faster, more physical, and those types of games I think we thrive in. … Playoff hockey is different. It’s something that you have to be more mentally and physically prepared for. There’s enough leadership and veteran presence in the room to know that it’s a different brand.
“From my experience over the last two years,” Campbell added, “it’s really almost as much — if not more — a mental game and being prepared and focused, and knowing what we have to do and carrying it out on the ice. That’s what we wanted to do tonight.”
Redden’s goal came as a bit of a surprise, as he tallied just three all season in 29 games between St. Louis and Boston, but he did enter the night with 101 playoff games under his belt. He knew what to expect, and he was able to step up.
“There’s a lot of experience in here, and guys have been through it all before, and that means a lot,” Redden said. “Obviously, you want to [play that way] all the time, but we put it together tonight.”
Defenseman Andrew Ference, who was as involved as anyone in the physical aspect of the game, denied that the team’s performance was a dramatic turnaround from the regular season, and that this type of performance had been building over the past few games. Still, the added intensity that comes with the playoffs didn’t hurt.
“Guys stepped up their games, and obviously we’re excited for the playoffs to start. You could sense that,” Ference said. “Obviously we have guys that have played before and I think are able to push themselves to that next level.”
It was that postseason experience that helped them take a lead that grew to 4-1 by the end of the second period, but it was the Bruins’ recent experience with blowing leads in the third period that still had us wondering if they could maintain the level of play in the final 20 minutes.
Not only did the Bruins hold on to that lead; they completely demoralized their opponent, to the point where the Maple Leafs hardly even generated any scoring chances over the final 40 minutes, let alone score any goals.
Julien said the days of blowing leads are already a distant memory.
“We’ve turned the page on that,” Julien said after his 41st career playoff win (37th with the Bruins). “We didn’t come into the second or third and say, ‘Are we going to hold this lead?’ This is a new season. We’ve got some veteran players that have been through the trenches and certainly know how to react to situations like this. We were a focused team from start to finish.”
They certainly showed no moments of lapses, no letdown and no give, and while one game can’t definitively answer all the question marks that surrounded this team three hours prior to their victory, the 60-minute effort was exactly what this team’s fans have been aching to see for months. The skill was there, the experience was there, and the system was there — it just had to all come together. On Wednesday night, it did just that.
And after all the debate about whether the Bruins could “flip the switch” for the playoffs, it just might have to continue.
“We have one in the back,” Dennis Seidenberg, with a laugh, said of the magic switch. “We just flipped it over.”
Finally, someone’s willing to tell the truth.