I feel a bit like U.S. Senator John Blutarsky this afternoon. "Hey, what's this lying around shit?!"
"Was it over when Toronto bombed Pearl Harbor?!"
Sure, there are reasons to be down about the state of the Bruins: they had two chances to knock out the scrappy Maple Leafs, and failed both times. More disheartening is the fact that they didn't get outslugged in epic duels where both teams exchanged punch after punch; rather they brought their C or D game, and only turned up the heat in the final ten minutes of the game.
However, the page has been turned, and tonight is another game. The Bruins have one last chance to punch out the Leafs, or it's going to be a long summer. And while the effort over the past few games hasn't exactly been inspiring, there are some reasons to be optimistic going into tonight's winner-take-all Game 7.
The list of reasons why the Bruins are facing a seventh game is a mile long, featuring things like Tyler Seguin forgetting how to score, failure to bury prime scoring chances (I'm looking at you, Patrice Bergeron), and the third line being essentially non-existent.
You know who isn't on that list? Tuukka Rask.
Rask has been fantastic in this series (as has James Reimer, to be fair), silencing any talk of whether or not he can be a number one goalie on a playoff team. Rask's efforts in Games 3 and 4 were incredible, where he fended off 90 Toronto shots and essentially won the game for the Bruins.
He certainly wasn't a problem in Games 5 or 6. Look at the goals he allowed: a breakaway for Tyler Bozak, a mini-breakaway for Clarke MacArthur, a fantastic tip by Dion Phaneuf, and a fortuitous bounce right onto the stick of Phil Kessel. None of those goals can be pointed at as "soft" or one Rask should've stopped.
Chances are that won't change tonight. Rask will be as solid as he has been, and that should give the B's a boost. If the team in front of him takes care of the puck (for once) and Rask holds up his end of the bargain (as he has thus far), the B's should be fine.
Big game experience
It'd be a lot easier on Bruins fans if this wasn't a category, but it is. The Bruins have had played in seven Game 7's since 2008, and while not every player from those teams remains on this one, the core is intact (Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, etc.). Their experience in those games has been both positive (the 2011 playoffs) and negative (every other Game 7).
However, be it positive or negative, experience is experience. One of the Bruins' supposed advantages coming into this series was their collective postseason experience, making them grizzled veterans when compared to the green Maple Leafs. The Leafs have acquitted themselves quite well thus far, but there's a chance that a Game 7 is a different beast.
How will the Leafs react if they fall behind? (Yeah, they'll probably be as shocked as anyone that the Bruins were actually able to score, but that's beside the point...) When Chara cut the Toronto lead in half on Friday night, the Leafs noticeably tensed up for the rest of the game, panicked with the puck, stopped making plays, and just looked for any chance to fling it out of their zone, icing or not. If the Bruins can get a lead (a big "if", of course), the inexperienced Leafs will start to force plays, allowing to Bruins to do what they do best: counterattack.
It can be argued how much influence a home crowd has on the outcome of a game, but it doesn't hurt to be playing in front of loyal supporters. Last night's game in Toronto sounded like the inside of an airplane hangar packed with three or four running 767's after the Leafs went up 2-0, and while players will say they're able to block that out, it certainly doesn't help.
More important, however, is the line-matching that home ice allows. As the home team, the Bruins will have the last change, meaning they'll be able to send Bergeron's line out against Phil Kessel, or match Chara's defense pairing against the Leafs most potent offensive unit.
Randy Carlyle tried to juggle his way around this in the other games in Boston, mixing up his lines and occasionally double-shifting players to get them away from Chara and Co. He may do that again tonight, but a Game 7 isn't exactly the best time to be experimenting with line combinations.
The problem isn't impossible to solve
The Bruins' problem in the last few games has been scoring. The bad news is that yeah, it's hard to score in the NHL. The good news, however, is that the B's aren't undermanned or in over their heads. It isn't like they don't have the horses to score goals. All they have to do is take the shots they have, get bodies to the net, and bury the opportunities they're given.
"Well duh, thanks, Captain Obvious." The point is that it's not like the Bruins have struggled to score all year, as they're a middle-of-the-road team offensively (13th, so they're in the top half of the league). It's not like they lack guys who can put the puck in the net.
They're just not doing the little things required to score goals: getting beaten up to earn the hard ice in front of the crease, or driving to the net hard enough to get to one of the many rebounds Reimer gives up nightly.
They have everything they need to score, they're just not working hard enough to do it. Hopefully a "win or go home" game brings out that effort.
Plus, last time the Bruins faced a Northeast Division opponent at home in a first round Game 7, they won the game and went on to win the Stanley Cup. That counts for something, right? Right? Hello?