By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There are these certain clichés in sports, idioms that are technically true, but only to an extent. The details, the nuance, the quirks of reality often get smoothed over by the crisp, concise catchphrase.
It is what it is. We have to overcome adversity. We’re taking it one game at a time.
Certainly, at or near the top of the list of locker room lingo would be a simple, “Not to make any excuses.”
Coincidentally, it’s a saying that’s almost exclusively used by an athlete or coach who is in the process of making an excuse. Because the reality is, every event has a genesis. Not much takes place without reason.
And in the case of the Boston Bruins in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team could have been forgiven if it had allowed some unfortunate circumstances to derail their focus, consequently sending them to some gut-punch losses.
That was, once again, an issue facing the Bruins on Saturday night against Columbus, in a series tied 2-2. The word “pivotal” may get overused to describe a Game 5, but NHL history shows that the winner of Game 5 in a 2-2 series goes on to win the series 79 percent of the time.
To say a lot was riding on Saturday night’s outcome would be a massive understatement.
Midway through the third period, the Bruins appeared to be cruising. Entering the period with a 1-0 lead, they stormed up and down the ice through the first 10 minutes of the final frame, outshooting Columbus 11-4 and picking up a goal to double that lead to 2-0.
It was a lead that seemed insurmountable. And maybe it would have been had the NHL decision-makers in Toronto ruled that there was not enough visual evidence to declare a deflected Seth Jones shot to have crossed the goal line, inside the leg pad of Tuukka Rask, pinned to the left post with 9:27 left in regulation. And that would have been an acceptable call, because there wasn’t visual evidence showing the puck crossing the goal line. Logically, the puck must have crossed, but very rarely — if ever — in sports replay does logic overrule clear, visual evidence.
Yet after an extremely lengthy review process, the call of no goal on the ice was overturned. As the NHL explained, “Good goal Columbus.”
Just like that, a surefire win in Game 5 — and, by extension, a massive advantage in the series — was very much in question for the Bruins.
Many times before, such moments have sunken teams. But the Bruins showed that they would not let it happen.
David Pastrnak scored a goal all of 43 seconds later, beating Sergei Bobrovsky with a wrister to the blocker side.
After the lengthy delay, and with the Blue Jackets likely feeling energized after getting that goal, the Bruins wiped it out in less than a minute.
“I think you can be negative in those situations, but we don’t have that mentality,” said D-man Brandon Carlo, who would later pick up an assist on the game-winning goal. “We just continue to stay positive no matter what they throw at us, if it’s a bad call by the ref on a penalty or like the puck hitting the net last game. Just not getting too negative about it and staying positive.”
It marked the second time in as many games that a goal went against the Bruins in a situation that could be considered a bad break. In Game 4, on the road in Columbus, the Blue Jackets scored to cut Boston’s lead to 2-1 after a puck had clearly bounced off the protective netting above the glass. That should have killed the play, but none of the four on-ice officials saw the puck leaving the playing area, and the odd, strange intricacies of the NHL rulebook stated that the goal was going to stand.
Just like in Game 5, that peculiar Columbus goal in Game 4 made the score 2-1. Yet with some lights-out goaltending from Rask and a massive goal from Sean Kuraly in the third period, the Bruins prevented that bad break from becoming anything more than one note in a larger story about a Bruins victory.
“At the end of the day, I think our guys are very resilient,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “On the bench, of course you’re upset with the call, but at the end of the day, most of the time on those long ones it’s like, ‘Hey whatever happens here, we have to be ready to go here out of this faceoff, whether it’s at center ice or our end.’ Most of the time we are. I thought we bounced back well from that call, scored the next goal, seemed to have it under control. Clearly, we didn’t. [Columbus] made a couple of high-end plays, but that’s our group.
“We’re resilient. We’ve battled through a lot this year,” Cassidy continued. “We came back from an elimination game on the road against a good team, and we battled through injuries all year to keep our position in the standings, so our guys are pretty good at that. Credit to the veteran guys in the room, and even the younger guys we talked about, their contributions. They’re learning to play through this as well, for young guys to keep their composure.”
To be fair, the call in Game 5 was not necessarily bad, per se. It may have been good, in fact. There’s just about no logical way to state that the puck didn’t sneak past Rask’s leg, inside the post. It must have been in the net. But again, replay reviews in sports rely exclusively on clear video evidence. And there remained a distinct possibility that the puck was sitting somewhere between the left post and Rask’s pad, while not being completely over the goal line. The fact is, no replay angle on the television broadcast could make that case.
But the minds in Toronto went with what seemed logically appropriate at a critical moment in a critical game. It didn’t go the Bruins’ way, but the Bruins made sure to wipe it out less than a minute later.
The challenges didn’t end there for Boston, though what transpired after that stretch of play was more of the old-fashioned variety. The Blue Jackets scored a pair of professional ice hockey goals to knot the score at 3-3. In a flash, a potential Bruins shutout victory had turned into a potentially crushing Bruins loss.
But the Bruins, as they did in Games 6 and 7 in Toronto when facing elimination, failed to crack. They stuck with what works, and it did, once more.
Pastrnak, who’s been working through some of his own on-ice issues in this series, finished off an end-to-end play that began with Carlo forcing a turnover in the Boston end of the ice. Carlo looked up and found Brad Marchand, starting up a 3-on-2 Bruins rush. With Kuraly making a strong net drive, a crease opened for Marchand to connect with Pastrnak, who redirected the pass just inside the right post and past Bobrovsky to give the Bruins a 4-3 lead.
Thanks to massive saves by Rask and defenseman Charlie McAvoy and the trusty post, that would hold as the final score.
“I think we did a good job staying composed when they tied the game,” Carlo explained. “Overall just continued to play our game. From the coaching staff out, there was a good, calm presence on the bench. We were serious, and obviously the adrenaline was pumping, but we just took a deep breath and moved on.”
Leaving aside the unclear, extended goal review, the feat of recovering after surrendering a two-goal lead in the third period was rare on its own. The NHL said it was just the second time the Bruins have ever won a playoff game after surrendering a multi-goal, third-period lead.
That it came after what could be considered a bad break only adds to what was an impressive display of resolve.
In both questionable moments in back-to-back games, it would have been understandable if the Bruins had used either as an excuse. Coming back from goals scored via cockamamie rulebook language or questionable replay reviews can be challenging for any team to deal with in games of such magnitude, with such tremendous stakes. And had the Bruins lost either game, the questionable or odd calls would have become a lead story and a defining part of this intense series.
Had the Bruins lost both games? Their season, right now, would be over. Instead, they now have two chances to advance to the conference finals.
Things unquestionably got dicey for the Bruins in this game. Columbus — a team that swept away a historically potent Lightning team in the first round — is not making anything easy for the opponents in this round. Yet with some timely execution and some clear, indisputable evidence of on-ice composure, the Bruins made sure that another questionable call ended up not mattering a bit.