The Boston Bruins have not disappointed hockey fans during this year's playoffs by providing some exhilarating hockey and heart-stopping moments on a regular basis.
Unfortunately for their fans, watching the Bruins is often an agonizing experience because these players never make it easy on themselves, especially in closeout games.
The Bruins went into Thursday night's Game 4 against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden with a chance to complete a series sweep and make their second Eastern Conference Finals appearance in the last two decades.
The Bruins started the game with great energy and an aggressive forecheck in the first period, which we rarely see from them in closeout games. At 4:39 of the second period, Nathan Horton opened the scoring, and then rookie Torey Krug continued his fine postseason play with a goal to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead three minutes later.
At this point, the B's were completely dominating the Rangers and were well on their way to winning the series.
But then the wheels started to fall off for Boston, because it wouldn't be a playoff series involving the Bruins without some drama in a closeout game.
Two awful mistakes cost the Bruins their lead, including a lazy play from captain Zdeno Chara to allow Rangers center Derek Stepan to take the puck and score, as well as a blooper-reel blunder from goaltender Tuukka Rask that gifted Carl Hagelin a goal (highlights below).
After regaining the lead from Tyler Seguin's first goal of the playoffs, the Bruins allowed Brian Boyle to tie the game with a goal off a wide-open shot 10 feet from Rask's net on the power play shortly thereafter.
Following an overtime period in which the Bruins controlled the play and created a lot of offensive zone pressure, New York won the game on a goal from rookie winger Chris Kreider, whose beautifully tipped shot from a Rick Nash pass beat Rask.
The Bruins goaltender shared his thoughts on the loss after the game with Joe McDonald of ESPN Boston:
Rask: "We gave them a couple of gifts and at the end of the day that’s what cost us a lot of energy, a couple of leads, the game."— Joe McDonald (@ESPNJoeyMac) May 24, 2013
Rask: "Stupid mistakes cost us the game."— Joe McDonald (@ESPNJoeyMac) May 24, 2013
Failing to close out a series is becoming a frustrating trend for the Bruins.
They had a 3-1 series lead in Round 1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but two poor performances allowed their Northeast Division rivals to force a Game 7. The Bruins needed a comeback for the ages to avoid a historic collapse and survive that series by overcoming a 4-1 third-period deficit to win 5-4 in overtime.
Allowing opponents to stay alive and have an opportunity to make a remarkable comeback is nothing new for the Bruins, who have been dealing with this problem on a regular basis since the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
Boston is now 7-13 in closeout games since Claude Julien took over as the team's head coach for the 2007-08 season. In non-Game 7 closeout games, the Bruins are just 3-9.
The ugly closeout stats don't stop there. Rask, who has been brilliant in the Bruins' second-round series against the Rangers until a horrible Game 4 performance, has a 2-8 record with a 3.20 GAA and a .890 save percentage in closeout games.
He was also the team's starting goaltender in the 2010 playoffs, when the Bruins became the third team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 series lead when the Philadelphia Flyers staged an amazing comeback in the second round.
Frighteningly, that Flyers comeback started with a Game 4 overtime victory at home, which is exactly what happened in New York on Thursday.
Who will win Game 5?
But the comparisons between the 2010 and 2013 teams are bogus.
This year's roster is more talented, much deeper and the majority of the players were part of the 2011 championship squad. Of the 35 players who played a game for the 2010 Bruins, only 12 of them are still with the team, and two important players in that postseason series (defenseman Dennis Seidenberg and center David Krejci) missed the final four games against the Flyers because of injuries.
The lack of a "killer instinct" is the Bruins' biggest weakness, and for a team that has played in seven Game 7s over the last five years and won a Stanley Cup two years ago, it's surprising to see these players have so much trouble finishing series before a seventh game.
But Boston won't panic, especially when there are a lot of positives to build on from Game 4, such as the play of Krug, Seguin and the fourth line. Two of the final three games of this series, including Saturday's Game 5 and a possible Game 7, will be played at TD Garden in Boston, where the Bruins are 20-7-3 this season (including playoffs).
The Bruins don't make it easy for themselves in closeout games, but this isn't an unfamiliar situation for these players. They have shown a lot of character and resiliency this season, and it would be shocking if their response in Game 5 was a weak one.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs in Boston. He's also a credentialed reporter at the 2013 NHL playoffs in Boston. Nick has covered the Bruins since the 2010-11 season.