TAMPA – The Bruins have come this far, so now they can’t let the psychological warfare that’s been staged against them since the start of the Eastern Conference Final by Tampa Bay head coach Guy Boucher get to them now that the series has turned into one winner-take-all showdown.
If Bruins head coach Claude Julien’s postgame comments tonight after his team’s 5-4 loss in Game 6 at the St. Pete Times were any indication, he might be letting his counterpart with the Sports Psychology degree play with his mind.
“What was more disappointing is probably the fact that, you know, I don’t know if I agree with those calls,” said Julien when asked about his team’s 1-for-4 showing on the penalty kill that contributed to the Lightning forcing Game 7. “And hopefully what was said today didn’t have any impact on that, because if it did, I’d be really disappointed.”
When pressed some more on how he though Boucher’s morning comments about the presence of referee Eric Furlatt would affect the game, Julien expanded:
“I thought we were very disciplined tonight. And again, it just seemed like it was one of those tough nights when you look back at some of those penalties, whether you’re allowed to agree or disagree. I’m one of those guys tonight that probably disagreed on a lot of them.
“When you hear what happened today, I guess it certainly makes things look even worse. So referees have a tough job to do. One thing you don’t want to do is criticize them. You’re allowed to agree or disagree, but they’ve got a tough job to do. My job is not to criticize them. But it was something that was tough to swallow tonight.”
During his morning media briefing, Boucher had been asked about Furlatt’s supposed bias against the Lightning, who have been called for an inordinate number of penalties compared to opponents in the last four games Furlatt has worked. Boucher explained that he was “very, very aware of it” and how he hoped things “would be fair like everybody else.” In the postgame presser, when asked about Julien’s comments, Boucher slyly looked at the stat sheet in front of him and pointed out that the Bruins had five power plays to Tampa Bay’s four.
“So I don’t know who got the advantage today. We got less power plays than them,” he said.
Well he knows who has the advantage because he wasn’t the one bringing up his comments after the game. Julien went there without being led and then a Boston reporter, doing his due diligence, asked Boucher about Julien. The edge clearly goes to Boucher.
Where some coaches might’ve deflected a question about a specific official with a cliché about not wanting to think about anything but his team’s play, Boucher slugged the softball out of the park and answered it head on with a response that clearly was meant to distract from any heat his team was feeling on home ice in an elimination game.
In the Bruins’ dressing room, Patrice Bergeron talked about how the Lightning “were selling [the penalties] well.” And Dennis Seidenberg, one of the culprits on a big penalty Tampa cashed in on, explained how he didn’t cross check Adam Hall when the referee pegged him with the penalty.
Although Julien said he didn’t talk to his team about Boucher’s comments, they obviously had an impact on his minions’ approach and their attitude about how the game was being played and called.
This isn’t the first bit of gamesmanship Boucher has throw out during this series. He started before the series by waxing poetic about Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara and everything black and gold in attempt to butter up his opponent. As the series has unfolded he’s played coy with his wording in response to questions about his goaltender (Dwayne Roloson was “preparing” to play and then didn’t), Thomas had called the Lightning easy to play against (he didn’t) and guaranteed a win (not even that close), and now the referee might be against us so he hoped “things would be fair.”
Regardless of how Game 7 goes, no one will be able to accuse Boucher of not doing everything in his power to have every angle covered and give his team every advantage. While Julien might have the smooth, shiny head, it’s Boucher who has the glare, scar and brainpower to turn a rag tag franchise into a Cup semifinalist and keep his team on track even when down 3-1 in a series against Pittsburgh or down 3-0 in a Game 4 against Boston.
The Bruins have done an exceptional job throughout this postseason of blocking out outside distractions. The circus-like atmosphere in Montreal, which was amped up 10 fold in the aftermath of the Zdeno Chara/Max Pacioretty collision, didn’t send them off course. Starting out a series in the hostile environs of Philadelphia, with the ghosts of last season’s collapse looming over them, barely slowed them down on their way to a sweep.
Now they’ve overcome the talent gap they have up front against Tampa Bay and got by without Bergeron when he was injured. They’ve reached Game 7 despite every attempt by Boucher to soften their resolve with a turn of phrase or praise.
To let Boucher’s mind games get to them now would put everything they’ve worked for for eight months to waste. The temptation is huge, but they can’t let anything by a Game 7 victory be first and foremost in their minds.
The Bruins have to keep their heads and keep their razor-sharp focus on hockey. Because if they’re going to try to win the mental battle with Boucher, they’ll lose.