BOSTON — Fighting off the urges of human nature is tougher than battling an in-his-prime Mike Tyson.
The Boston Bruins found that out the hard way against the Carolina Hurricanes in the now-concluded Eastern Conference semifinal series, which ended tonight with a 3-2 win by the ‘Canes in overtime at TD Banknorth Garden.
The Bruins flaunted astronomical grit in forcing a Game 7 after trailing three games to one. But they never should’ve been in that position. Head coach Claude Julien placed a tad of the blame for his club’s slow start out of the gate against the Hurricanes on the nine-day layoff his team endured after a four-game sweep of Montreal in the first round.
But I don’t buy it. The coach and his players all said the time off was a positive, so we can’t look back at it as a negative. There is only one thing in history that did the Bruins in, and that’s the 4-0 season-series sweep of Carolina the Bruins produced in the regular season.
As hard as they tried to convince themselves and us that the Hurricanes team that landed in Boston for Game 1 wasn’t the same one they’d left for dead during the 82-game haul, the Bruins’ play didn’t reflect that until Game 5, when they’re backs were against the wall.
Those players I spoke to after the game denied that they took the Hurricanes lightly.
“We were aware of (them being better). They beat a good team in the first round and beat a great team in the second round. So you’ve got to give them credit. But we were expecting a good challenge,” said center Patrice Bergeron.
Added center Marc Savard: “I think I look back at the series and I think I look back at Game 2, if we could’ve won that one at home I think it would’ve been a different series. But we didn’t take them lightly at all. They played well. You’ve got to give them credit, they came at us in waves and they came at us hard. And at times, we came at them hard, but it didn’t seem like it was enough.”
I’m not discrediting what Carolina has accomplished. In fact, I’m lauding it. This ‘Canes club is 10 times better than the one the Bruins swept. They believe in everything their coach does, they support each other and battle for each other the same way the Bruins did for the season’s first 86 games. But I am hoping that the Bruins take a hard lesson from losing this series the way they did.
Except for the random mailed-in game here or there, every postseason contest in the NHL looks like it’s being played in an alternative universe in terms of intensity and speed. No matter the opponent, the clubs like Detroit and Pittsburgh pay the price every second on the ice. For four games, the Bruins seemed unwilling to do that. There was talk about the layoff, chatter about the need for a villain to hate on the other side, even discussion about bad ice. It’s all hooey.
When it comes to the playoffs and making a run for the Stanley Cup, that all needs to go out the window. The Bruins preached all season about how they only worried about themselves and what they could control. That attitude needed to be carried over into the postseason and intensified. Instead the Bruins lifted their foot off the gas. The result was a season that finished at least one round shorter than it should’ve.
There’ll be plenty of time over the next 14 weeks to look at the bigger picture and soak in the strides the Bruins took not only as a team but as an organization. Now is the time to lament the opportunity the Bruins squandered. It was a lot more than an overtime goal by Scott Walker and some great goaltending by Cam Ward that disposed of the Bruins. Some of it was their own doing — some mental, some physical. But all the puck-moving defensemen and converted power plays wouldn’t have changed the Bruins’ frame of mind for the first half of this series.
For years the Bruins have battled an inferiority complex in this town in relation to other pro sports franchises. Since the lockout they had to fight through a change in the way the game is played and some questionable personnel moves. Now they’re a strong enough team that only a few things, other than a better opponent, can take them down. Hopefully moving forward, human nature won’t have a chance of derailing them.