The Boston Bruins will need to quickly put their Game 4 collapse to the Tampa Bay Lightning behind them and come back with a better effort in Game 5 on Monday. The Bruins blew a 3-0 lead in Game 4, losing 5-3 and squandering the chance to come home up 3-1 in the series. Instead, the series is tied 2-2, making Game 5 crucial. Here are five keys for the Bruins if they want to return to Tampa for Game 6 ahead in the series.
Learn and move on: Throughout this season and the playoffs, the Bruins have done a great job of moving on from each game whether it was a win or a loss. They've been able to isolate the next game and not dwell on the previous game or look too far ahead. Although they must do that again in Game 5, they also can't forget what they learned in Game 4, when they basically stopped playing after the first period. Putting the past behind you is fine, as long as you've learned from it.
"All you have to do is you got to learn from them," Bruins coach Claude Julien said after Game 4. "I think everybody learns from those kinds of things, and you learn from what you did wrong and why it happened, and that's what we do. But I think what they're trying to say is that, and I'm one of those believers, if you lose 5-1 or you lose in overtime in the playoffs, a loss is a loss and you have to put that aside. And you have to move on and you can't carry that baggage with you. And I think basically that's what the players are telling you as far as a loss is a loss. But I think we recognize that there's certain things we did in the second and then maybe a little bit less in the third, but still, that certainly didn't help our chances of winning."
Stay focused and don't panic: When asked what stood out most to him in his team's collapse in Game 4 on Saturday, Julien pointed to his team's losing focus and panicking.
"We just lost our focus here," Julien said after Game 4. "We played really well in the first period not because of what the score was, but we did the right things and we kept that lead. The message was pretty clear: We had to continue to play the same way, but somehow we started getting stressed out again. They started getting speed, they started getting momentum, and after they scored a few goals, it almost looked like we were paralyzed out there. We weren't reacting, we weren't holding, and it just snowballed from there."
Julien is absolutely correct. Losing focus was one of the Bruins' main problems in the regular season, but it appeared they had overcome it in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, when they erased two deficits and beat the Canadiens in overtime. In that game, they didn't panic when they fell behind early. Then, in Game 7 of that series, the Bruins didn't panic after Montreal came back and forced overtime late in the third period. It appeared the Bruins had found the formula for playing with poise and not panicking. But on Saturday, that formula vanished. The Bruins need to find that mental fortitude again, and if things go wrong, they can't let it snowball. They must stay calm and focus on their game plan.
Keep the foot on the pedal: The Bruins have shown that they can get off to fast starts in the playoffs, putting their opponents on their heels early. But Boston has struggled at times to play with a lead. If the Bruins jump out early, they need to keep skating and not let up. If they go up 3-0, 4-0 or even 5-0, they can't let the Lightning back into Game 5. As they unfortunately learned Saturday (and should have learned in Game 2, when they almost blew a 6-3 lead), the job isn't done until the final horn sounds. The Lightning have shown the firepower to get right back into a game if given the opportunity.
"No, no way!" Seidenberg said. "I don't know how many times he saved us during the playoffs and during the season; there's no way we even think about him having anything to do with us losing. I think it was our mistake up front and not following through with what we're supposed to do. Whoever said that hasn't watched him all season and didn't watch us stop playing in front of him tonight and in other games. What a joke!"
That being said, Thomas didn't have his best game on Saturday. He was not the main reason the Bruins fell apart, but he was also not the dominating Thomas we've seen for most of the season. When he doesn't perform as well, the team needs to pick him up and pay him back for all the games he stole during the season. In Game 4, the Bruins didn't do that and instead seemed to rely on Thomas to bail them out once again. This is a team game, and the Bruins need to play better in front of Thomas.
Julien and players must adapt on the fly: After sweeping the Flyers, the Bruins' players and management all credited Julien for his ability to adapt game by game and in-game as well. On Saturday, Julien and the team were unable to adjust and slow down the Lightning. But although Julien couldn't slow down the Lightning, his players were guilty of not adapting as well. The Bruins don't need to change the foundation of the way they play, but making some in-game adjustments can change momentum. Whether that's entering the offensive zone differently or applying a different approach in the defensive zone, they must adapt and slow the Lightning down when they get on a roll.
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Ask a question for his next Bruins mailbag here.