BOSTON (CBS) – There’s just no way to manufacture desperation.
It’s a feeling of urgency that must originate from real circumstances, when things are do-or-die (or in the fantasy land of sports, do-or-have-your-season-end).
That much was made clear on Friday night at the TD Garden, when 17,000-plus Bruins fans packed the building in hopes of cheering the Bruins on to the next round. Instead, they’ll be watching their televisions on Sunday night as the Bruins get another chance to put this series away in Game 6 in Toronto.
The Bruins lost on Friday night, but they didn’t play their worst game. They put 44 shots on net and created a good number of opportunities on rebounds. They just about matched the Maple Leafs’ physically, evidenced by Toronto’s 46-39 advantage in the hits column, and did what was necessary in the faceoff dot (56 percent success rate) and in puck battles along the boards.
The Bruins just weren’t as desperate as the Leafs. At least, they weren’t for the first 50 or so minutes of the game.
The Maple Leafs outshot the Bruins 19-8 in the first 20 minutes, but thanks to Tuukka Rask, the game remained scoreless. Boston played a better second period, but a bad miscue by Andrew Ference set up a free lane to a shorthanded goal for Tyler Bozak. And less than two minutes into the third, Johnny Boychuk and Nathan Horton weren’t on the same page for a pass coming out of the Bruins’ end, and Clarke MacArthur picked up the loose puck and sped into the Boston zone to put the Leafs ahead 2-0.
It wasn’t until about the midway point of the third period when desperation finally kicked in for the Bruins. Maybe they realized time was running out on their opportunity to earn a five-day respite from playoff hockey. Maybe they started thinking about a trip to Toronto on Saturday afternoon that they did not want to make. Whatever it was, it was very real. Passes became crisper, D-men were keeping pucks in the offensive end, and the shots on James Reimer were piling up.
The Bruins finally broke through with a Zdeno Chara goal with 8:58 remaining in the game, and they ended up with 15 more shots than Toronto in the third period. The effort was real, and it was inspired, but it was too little, too late.
“We knew they were going to come out really hard, and we didn’t counter that,” said Brad Marchand, who is still without a goal after leading the team with 18 tallies in the regular season. “They really took it to us for the first two periods and we didn’t get a whole lot going. We played better in the last 10 minutes of the third, but it wasn’t enough.”
The Bruins, under Claude Julien, have been here before. The 3-0 series lead over Philadelphia in 2010 need not be mentioned. In 2011, they led the Canadiens 3-2 but lost Game 6 by a 2-1 score. Two series later, they led the Lightning 3-2 but again lost Game 6 by one goal. Though they won both Game 7’s and obviously won the Cup by climbing out of a 3-2 hole in the Finals against Vancouver, there were questions heading in to Friday’s Game 5 about the Bruins’ closing ability.
And after the 2-1 loss, the questions will persist.
Dennis Seidenberg admitted the team didn’t have a “killer instinct,” and Marchand even said the Bruins might have thought they might be able to cruise to a series-clinching victory.
“I think it was just we weren’t prepared,” Marchand said. “Maybe we thought it was going to be a little easier than it was. They came out very hard and really put a lot of pressure on us and we weren’t ready.”
Boychuk, who blocked a team-high three shots and sent a shot off the crossbar eight minutes into the third period, said that even though the Bruins still have the series lead, they simply have to match the Maple Leafs’ intensity from the first drop of the puck on Sunday night.
“We’ve been in this situation before, so you have to take what you learned from it before and you have to be just as desperate as the team across from you, no matter what, even if you have a couple of games to close it out. You have to be ready for it and you have to be more desperate than them,” Boychuk said. “We have to just come out prepared and battle like we’re the ones on our last life.”
Of course, that should have been the mind-set entering Game 5, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t. The Bruins have no excuse to repeat that performance come Sunday.