May 13, 2013

Bruins look to dodge yet another playoff disaster

By Jesse Connolly

Claude Julien hasn't shown much willingness to alter his game plan in Boston's first-round series against the Maple Leafs. (Getty Images)

Analogies. Us sports-writing folk tend to love them, and you're probably going to read plenty before, during and after the Boston Bruins' pivotal Game 7 showdown with the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden.

Here's the best one I've got for tonight's do-or-die showdown:

At this very moment, the Bruins' short-term future seems a lot like that of the Titanic in its final hours. The dreaded iceberg is staring them square in the face and everyone that's watching wisely fears that their doom is near. 

After crapping the bed in Game 5 and getting outplayed, outworked and outcoached in Game 6, yet another playoff disaster seems on the horizon for the Black and Gold. 

But here's the big difference between the Titanic and the Bruins (other than the whole one's-a-pile-of-rotting-steel-at-the-bottom-of-the-Atlantic thing, and so on and so forth): Had the Titanic stayed its course and hit that iceberg head on, it probably wouldve survived. If the Bruins stay the course and don't alter their game plan, they're probably not going to make it out of the first round.

While it's too late for wholesale changes, there are plenty of tweaks that could be made which would pay dividends. Here are my suggestions: 

Mix up the lines

Claude Julien had a GOLDEN opportunity (caps for emphasis) to give some different lines a trial run in the final ten minutes of Game 6, with the Bruins trailing 2-0 and looking hopeless. Instead, the combos remained untouched.

Why not see how Jaromir Jagr fares with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand? How about moving him up to play the right side with David Krejci? Why not slide Tyler Seguin down to play with Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley? Why not try Carl Soderberg in Game 6?

So many possibilities, and yet we haven't seen a single alteration since Peverley was inserted into the lineup for Kaspars Daugavins after Game 1. The Bruins' second and third lines have combined for one even-strength goal through six games. That's a recipe for failure.

Get to the net

The Leafs have obviously made some key corrections to their defensive strategies. In doing so, they've been effective at boxing out the Bruins, which not only keeps them from getting initial shots from close range, but also from following up and burying rebounds.

Julien and the rest of the coaching staff need to recognize this and find a way around it. A big part of that is being more efficient entering the offensive zone. With James Reimer being a rebound machine, the Bruins need to storm the net and shoot from spots where he's vulnerable, then get their other players on the ice in the right positions to scoop up the loose pucks. 

If the Bruins' offensive opportunities remain of the one-and-done variety, they're in big trouble. Getting those critical follow-up chances would go a long way toward winning this game.

Rask must remain sharp

Tuukka Rask has been the B's No. 1 star over the last two tilts and has proven himself capable of playing superb at key junctures in playoff games. The Bruins can't afford to have his play dip at all in Game 7, especially if their offensive woes continue.

The Finnish goaltender's been in one Game 7 to date which, as you probably recall, saw Boston blow a three-goal lead against the Flyers in 2010 at TD Garden, capping off Philly's historic comeback. Though it appears unlikely, the Bruins are in deep trouble if his performance is reminiscent of that one. Rask needs to block out any and all memories of May 14, 2010.

Show that you want it

The most troubling thing about this whole season and the playoffs thus far has been the Bruins' incessant knack for playing ho-hum hockey in key games. They lost every "statement game" against the Penguins, floundered against their archrival, the Canadiens, coughed up countless multi-goal leads in third periods and have seen their postseason play range anywhere from atrocious to unstoppable.

If they lay another egg tonight, if they don't play balls-to-the-wall hockey, hitting everything that moves, skating like the wind, battling as if they want to win just as badly as the Maple Leafs do, then they deserve to suffer yet another catastrophic collapse. If this "core" group of players has as much cohesion as they claim, if they're willing to fight through thick and thin for one another and really want to prove 2011 wasn't a fluke, well, this is gut-check time. 

If they can't pull this out and avoid a disastrous finish to their season, we might see a few key members of this team's core -- analogy alert! -- go down with the ship.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ