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BOSTON (CBS) – After the Boston Bruins captured Game 4 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in exciting overtime fashion, it looked as if it securing that fourth, series-clinching victory was a formality.
They had a commanding 3-1 series lead, and convincing wins in Games 1 and 3 made it seem as though they had shed the inconsistent play that haunted them during the regular season just in time for the playoffs. They had the Leafs on the hook, complaining about faceoffs, and James Reimer fearing nearly any shot that came his way.
The Bruins were on their way.
But then they lost Game 5 in Boston. Then Game 6 in Toronto last night. Now, as soon as their plane starts working, the Bruins will head back to Boston for a winner-takes-all Game 7 on Monday night.
Which Bruins team will show up? The one that looked so good in Game 3 — netting a trio of goals in the second period — and had the emotional high of David Krejci’s game-winning hat trick in Game 4? Or the one that, for the last two games, has been sloppy with the puck and unable to land those bone-rattling hits, and now finds themselves with their backs against the wall.
Bruins head coach Claude Julien was a man of few words following Sunday night’s loss, but likened his team to a famous personality-shifting doctor in literature.
“As I said to our players after the game we’ve been a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ hockey club all year, and that’s what you’re seeing right now,” Julien said following the 2-1 loss in Toronto. “I think it’s important for us to bring the good Bruins team to the table for Game 7.”
Closing teams out has been an issue for Julien-led Bruins, who are now 6-12 in closeout games during his six-year tenure as Bruins head coach. They are 3-4 in Game 7′s, with all three wins coming during their 2011 Stanley Cup run.
“No doubt, I’d like to have it any other way but at this stage of the year, frustration on my part isn’t going to help my club turn it over,” Julien said when asked about his team’s issues closing teams out.
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No one, not even their coach, knows which Bruins will show up on Monday night. The “Jekyll” version aggressively finds their way to the net, peppers Reimer with shots and (mostly) finishes when they have the opportunities. The “Hyde” version is lackadaisical, has little sense of urgency and can’t seem to put the puck where they want it. Like the villain the normally passive Jekyll transforms into, the “Hyde” Bruins have no heart.
But, as Julien noted, these are the inner traits the Bruins have battled all season long. They’ll look like potential Stanley Cup contenders one game only to give an overwhelmingly frustrating effort the next. This inconsistent play saw them fall from the two-seed in the East to the fourth during the regular season, and now is the reason their 3-1 series lead has been wiped out and they face a win or go home Game 7 on Monday night.
The Bruins are having a tough enough time as it is battling with the Maple Leafs, but are making the situation even more difficult with their own, inner battle as they try to find their identity.
If they don’t figure that all out before Monday night, it won’t matter come Tuesday.