Bruins get another tough lesson
WILIMINGTON. Mass. -- Any Bruins fan can remember the sinking feeling of the Bruins' monumental collapse in last season's Stanley Cup playoffs, when they blew a 3-0 lead in their second-round series -- and in Game 7 -- with the Philadelphia Flyers.
While Game 79 of the regular season, with a playoff spot already clinched, clearly has much less significance than Game 7 of a playoff series, the airwaves and Twitter were abuzz Tuesday with references to that stinging moment after the Bruins blew a 3-0 lead and allowed three goals in the final 3:48 of regulation of a 5-3 loss to the Rangers on Monday night.
With the playoffs approaching, there again are question marks about this team. Did the Bruins of last May learn from their mistakes? Did the current Bruins learn from Monday's mess, when the team did have something to play for, such as a better playoff seeding and building confidence against a potential first-round opponent? The Rangers now have beaten Boston three straight times to win the season series 3-1.
After a team meeting and hard practice Tuesday afternoon, the Bruins claimed they have learned from their mistakes.
"We're definitely not happy with what happened [Monday] and hopefully we can learn from it," forward Milan Lucic said. "We're doing things to maintain a certain level and standard for a full 60 minutes so things like that don't happen again. It seemed like in the first period, everything was just straight lines and good chips and good support with everyone supporting each other up and down the ice. Then it seemed like we got up 3-0 and kind of wanted to get away from that. So those are the things that you have to look at and address. Hopefully we learned our lesson."
Lucic scoffed at the idea that the Rangers are in the Bruins' heads, pointing to 2008, when the eighth-seeded Bruins gave a heavily favored, top-seeded Montreal squad that owned them in the regular season all it could handle.
"It doesn't really matter what happens in a season series because the playoffs is a whole new game," Lucic said. "Obviously we respect [the Rangers] and we know they're a potential opponent for us and we know that in the back of our minds that they're a team that is capable of beating us. But in the end we have to have the confidence that we can go out and beat them too."
"You can't connect the past to now or now to the playoffs," forward Shawn Thornton said. "I'm not worried. It's not that we don't care or we don't recognize the mistakes we've made, we know what we have to correct and we move on. You can't let it drag you down or stick with you. Learn the lesson and move on."
Captain Zdeno Chara and Claude Julien, while not taking a sky-is-falling approach, seemed a bit more perturbed when discussing what went wrong Monday. They talked about the need to play with urgency and structure in the final three games of the regular season.
Both Julien and Chara did their best to make it clear that this was an issue of the team not following the plan Julien had laid out.
"I think we need to learn as a group from the incident," Julien said. "Part of it is that you need to respect the game plan for 60 minutes, and we didn't do that. Hopefully we learned a valuable lesson from here until the end of the season and beyond.
"You can't get too comfortable. We got comfortable and you could see the level of play slipped a little bit, and before you knew it, the damage was done. You have to respect the game plan for 60 minutes. That's what has made great teams great in the past.
"We should have never believed that the game was over once we got up 3-0. If it's a lesson learned, then it'll be a positive thing down the road. If it's not, then it'll come to haunt us because it will happen again."
A clearly frustrated Chara agreed with his coach and hopes his teammates don't think they can just coast into the playoffs and turn the switch back on.
"That's what happens when you don't respect the game plan, and start playing your own game," Chara said. "We knew the Rangers weren't going to give up because they needed the points. They deserved the win because they were a much hungrier team in the second half of the game. It's a lack of focus and a lack of discipline to respect the game plan.
"I hope we're not [coasting]," Chara added. "Certainly we have to address that and we did that today. We have to approach these games like they're playoff games and we've got to make sure that we play with our expectations and not get comfortable. Just because these teams are nonplayoff teams doesn't mean that they won't play good hockey. We know that the Islanders are playing well and so is Ottawa and New Jersey. We can't take any team lightly just because they are not in the playoffs."
On paper, the Bruins should beat the Islanders, Senators and Devils to finish the season with 105 points and ride a wave of momentum into the playoffs. But as this team has discovered, the game isn't won on paper and a 3-0 lead doesn't guarantee a win. Whether the Bruins have truly learned that lesson will show on the ice.
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.