BOSTON – Even though their afternoon victory over the Bruins leapfrogged them into fourth in the Western Conference for the time being, the San Jose Sharks were still just four points ahead of the three teams tied for ninth place.
That’s life out West right now for the Sharks and the 12 teams separated by just 12 points from third place to 14th. Basically, the playoffs have already started for the Sharks, who looked like they were in mid-April form at TD Garden during their 2-0 triumph.
The Bruins, on the other hand, looked like a team still grasping for that consistency that will make or break them come the postseason. Following up a highly-charged victory like the one Thursday night over Dallas with an effort that’s about a gear too slow two days later won’t cut it once the league standings are trimmed from 30 teams to 16 playoff participants.
After his team pulled out a gutsy victory despite being outshot, 26-18, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan talked about how the Sharks “passed the test” of coming to Boston and starting their Eastern road swing on a victorious note despite the early start time and the rugged opposition the Bruins provided.
The Bruins too were tested, and they failed. They needed to make a follow-up statement that they could put together a 60-minute effort complete with finish and physicality in a game that didn’t start with three fights in four seconds, didn’t involve a hated heel like Steve Ott and didn’t feature a sieve like Andrew Raycroft in the opposition’s crease.
Boston has played great the last several weeks since the Montreal collapse Jan. 8. The Bruins have pulled out a couple ugly ones. They’ve also earned some great two-point evenings by imposing their will on the opposition. Against a Sharks team that threw at least one play-disrupting hit every shift and sacrificed life and limb to block 25 shots, the Bruins were playing a VHS game in a DVD world.
What David Krejci called a bad bounce that caused his giveaway and in turn San Jose’s lone non-empty-net goal, was clearly a case of the center hoping he would be able to dangle through Marc-Edouard Vlasic en route to a pretty shorthanded goal that would earn a place on the highlight reel during Hockey Night in Canada. If the Sharks are such a “heavy” team, it’s probably not wise to go soft with the puck, especially on the penalty kill. Little things like that will kill you every time against a team playing desperate.
There were plenty of other missed opportunities both ways. And if Milan Lucic buries his open-net chance late in the first period, we’re probably dissecting a totally different game. Nonetheless, it was the Bruins who committed the big giveaway, and failed to get anything going on four power plays (other than the play leading up to Lucic’s golden chance) and lost almost every battle where and when it counted most.
Losing to the Sharks by one plus an empty-netter by no means erases the positive strides Boston took while winning six of its previous eight. It should serve as more of a warning signal that not every game is going to start with an explosion of fists and not every team is going to give a start to an obviously overwhelmed goaltender that allows two goals on the first two Bruins shots of the night. The Bruins have to generate their own emotion and play at a peak level for the sake of playing intense and earning the win – not because of some notion of revenge or some artificial venom built up against a player on the other side.
San Jose has suffered similar postseason failures to Boston’s the last few years. As the Sharks are getting healthier and are building better chemistry, they’re not only winning (seven of their last eight now) but doing so with a playoff edge that’ll have them exhibiting winning habits when the stakes are raised. The Bruins, who won’t face San Jose again this season without a Cup final date, could use the Sharks as a model of a team that is already looking forward while playing in the present.
When the playoffs start, the points earned in the regular season get dialed back to zero. The teams that earned their seeding by playing with a playoff style and level of intensity will be the ones that march on, and the Bruins have to find a way to string those types of performances together more often.