For Friday night’s Game 5 of the 2013 Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the Boston Bruins will presumably dress five holdovers from the last game of their 2008 playoff run under then-first-year head coach Claude Julien. They will have a total of six left from their active roster in the 2009 postseason, 11 from 2010 and 16 skaters from both 2011 and 2012.
In their rise from restoration of respectability to certified championship contender status, this Julien-guided core has gone 6-10 when it has a chance to eliminate an opponent.
Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask, who is on active playoff crease duty for the second time in his career, went 1-5 in that situation during his only other springtime run in 2010. Delete that record and the Bruins are still merely .500 at 5-5 in recent memory when they have an adversary running out of time.
Outside of four downfalls in a Game 7―when, naturally, both contesting clubs have a chance to eliminate the adversary―and two other blown opportunities versus Philadelphia in 2010, Julien’s pupils have swung and missed on three first attempts to conclude a series.
The first of those three was Game 5 of the 2010 Eastern Conference quarterfinals against Buffalo, Rask’s first-ever Stanley Cup series, which he eventually won in six matches. The others were Game 6 of the first round against Montreal and the third round versus Tampa Bay in their eventual run to a title in 2011.
In all three of those cases, the failed first try was on the road whereas the successful second stab took place on home ice at the TD Garden. This time around, the Bruins will be home for the first clash since nudging the Toronto Maple Leafs to the precipice of elimination.
But as recent trends will verify, home-ice advantage has been erratic for this franchise in the playoffs.
Since going on a 10-3 romp in front of the Causeway Street congregants during its banner campaign, including a 10-1 run after initially dropping two straight to the Habs, Boston is 2-4 in home playoff action. They brooked a wretched 1-3 plunge en route to first-round elimination last year and split the first two installments of this ongoing series with the Maple Leafs.
If they do not seize this moment and replenish the favorable energy in their own mansion, the Bruins will return to the Air Canada Centre for their second try against what would doubtlessly be a newly emboldened Toronto team.
Not that that would be a harbinger of doom. Resilience has been an integral trait of the Julien-era Bruins, who are a cumulative 9-4 when they must win to avert elimination, including a 2-1 record in Game 7s that were forced by the opposition.
With that said, the contrast between their track record in desperate times as opposed to when they are in command and playing the role of favorites is as plain as that between the shoulder caps and main body of their jerseys.
The first time a Julien-coached Bruins team could have reasonably been labeled the favorite in a playoff series was in 2009. At least, that would have been a reasonable consensus going in.
That year, they had the still-present Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Andrew Ference, David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton on their regular-season Eastern Conference championship roster.
That squad followed up by finishing a 180-degree role reversal on the previous season with a first-round sweep of Montreal. But they subsequently tripped over their own skates in a seven-game, seesaw loss to Carolina.
They did not have another matchup that looked quite as disparately in their favor until they were the defending champions in 2012. They handled that by fumbling yet another seven-game bout in overtime against Washington.
This year, although it is a fourth-versus-fifth-seeded card, there is a stark postseason experiential discrepancy between the Bruins and Leafs. In retrospect, it is not unlike the aforementioned Bruins-Hurricanes series, in which Carolina had several key holdovers from the team that won a Cup three years prior.
Those Hurricanes sculpted themselves a three-games-to-one lead, momentarily fumbled, but prevailed in sudden-death in Game 7.
The current Boston club holds an identical 3-1 upper hand but does not want to juggle with torches the same way the 2009 Canes did. Even if they regrouped to finish off Toronto in Game 6 or 7, the Bruins would be doing themselves fewer favors, image-wise, than if they close the deal on Friday.
Lucic, whose rookie season was Julien’s first as the Boston skipper, has all but made “killer instinct” his catchphrase, particularly when such an element is amiss. The six-year veteran’s presence in every recent playoff run and six-point start to this series ought to amplify the urgency as the first closing call is issued.
The Julien-era Bruins have eliminated three previous opponents without fail. Two of those were the 2009 Canadiens and 2011 Flyers in a sweep that rinsed out the vinegar of a seven-game defeat in the same matchup the previous year. The other was Vancouver in Game 7 of the 2011 Cup Final after initially trailing, 3-2.
There is no pre-made revenge factor or immediate desperation to clinch a trophy this time. Instead, this core will have to flaunt a little learnedness and create some incentive of its own.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via hockey-reference.com.
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