By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — What, you thought winning games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs was going to be easy?
While it would be unfair to say the Bruins actually believed Thursday night’s playoff opener would come to them easily, their play on the ice certainly made it seem as if they may have underestimated the visiting Maple Leafs. For the bulk of the 60 minutes, Toronto was the faster, smarter, and more aggressive hockey team. The 4-1 final score in favor of the visitors reflected that quite well.
The Bruins were all too eager to lay out the red carpet to their own goalmouth in the second period, leading to breakaways for Mitch Marner (which turned into a successful penalty shot), William Nylander and John Tavares. The middle period ended, fittingly, with a 3-on-1 rush from Kasperi Kapanen, Auston Matthews, and Andreas Johnsson just before the buzzer sounded. Tuukka Rask could only turn away three of those five Grade-A opportunities, and the Bruins found themselves in a very bad place during the second intermission. An ill-timed interference penalty by Zdeno Chara midway through the third didn’t help in the comeback effort, and the Leafs buried an empty-netter to earn that Game 1 victory.
If one were so inclined, one could easily point fingers up and down the roster — and at the coaching staff — for the numerous failures that led to the defeat. But pointing fingers has not been the Bruins’ preferred choice of action whenever things have gone awry this season. It’s unlikely to begin now.
Instead, the defining characteristic of the 49-win Bruins all year long was an inability to never let the bad times fester — no matter how bad those times may have been.
Perhaps the lowest point of the year came on opening night, when the Bruins were served up as a sacrificial offering to the Capitals on the night they raised their first-ever Stanley Cup banner; Washington won 7-0. But the Bruins, on the road the following night in Buffalo, beat the Sabres 4-0. They’d quickly turn that into a four-game win streak to improve to 4-1-0 on the season, accentuated with an 8-2 thumping of the Red Wings.
A 3-0 loss at home to the Canadiens in late October was followed with a 3-2 win in Carolina where the Bruins came back from a pair of deficits.
A brutal 8-5 home loss to the Canucks was followed by a pair of home wins: a 5-1 whooping of the visiting Maple Leafs and then a 4-1 win over the defending Western Conference champs from Begas.
A rough stretch in Florida — a 5-0 loss to the Panthers and a tighter 3-2 loss to the Lightning — was followed immediately by a three-game winning streak. The Bruins followed the lose-two, win-three pattern again right after that, before following their next two losses with a four-game win streak. In late January, the Bruins lost three straight games, and they followed it up by going a ridiculous 15-0-2 over their next 17 contests.
Another three-game losing streak hit in mid-March, including a 7-4 loss in Columbus. It was followed by a four-game win streak for the Bruins — a streak that kicked off with Brad Marchand’s ode to Conor McGregor to exact some revenge on those same Blue Jackets.
Even at the end of the season, when there wasn’t much to play for, the Bruins showed some pride after losing 6-3 in Detroit by waxing the Blue Jackets in Columbus by a score of 6-2.
That, really, is what came to define the 2018-19 Boston Bruins, a team that recorded the second-highest win total and third-highest point total over the past decade for the franchise. It was not perfection. It was merely resiliency.
“It’s massive,” Jake DeBrusk said of the importance of winning Game 2. “Take every game differently and we’re going to have to respond. I think that obviously there’s outside noise and different things that pressure, but just one of those things where we understand we don’t want to go down 2-0 going to their arena, and we have confidence that we’ll play a better game.”
In order to prevent this series from getting too far away from them early, the Bruins will need to tap into that on Saturday night at TD Garden. They’ll need a steadfast focus on their own game. They’ll need heightened awareness of the slipperiness of some of Toronto’s best skaters. They’ll need simplicity with the puck in both zones. They’ll likely need one more save.
For some teams, that would be asking a lot. For this year’s Bruins team, though, it should be no problem. Preventing bad times from getting worse has been their trademark.