Ian Clark's On Hockey: Bruins have been there before
IT WAS a question the Boston Bruins had to know was coming ... again and again.
"You were in this position two years ago against Vancouver. How does that help you now?"
The Bruins will host the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at 8 in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. Just as it did two years ago in the final series, Boston faces a must-win at home.
To be fair, the question has merit. Most of the Bruins who did go on to win the final two games two years ago are still in a Bruins sweater now.
But the biggest difference is the opposition. Two years ago, the Canucks were a team that led the series 2-0 before dropping four of the next five games amid goaltending issues and lack of scoring from its top players.
The Blackhawks are not having similar issues. Between the pipes, Corey Crawford has been rock solid. Nor are the Chicago big guns firing blanks. Additionally, Chicago has won two straight to turn a 2-1 hole into a 3-2 series lead.
"I mean it's a different team, different situation but we've been here before," Bruins forward Brad Marchand said after practice Sunday. "I think we have a bit of confidence but, at the same time, they're a very resilient team. They've played great so far. They played good last time they were in our building so we've got to make sure we realize that and we don't take it for granted."
The other question that came up a lot after practice Sunday was about the Bruins' success under head coach Claude Julien when it comes to elimination games. Boston has forced a Game 7 four times under Julien and has never been eliminated in fewer than seven games in any series under him.
Bruins forward Nathan Horton downplayed Julien's style as a factor in that statistic, saying that playing for your teammates in desperation mode is what matters.
"You play for the guy next to you in your room. You don't want to let them down," Horton said. "When your backs are against the wall, that's the time to step it up and everybody knows that our backs are against the wall in the room and that's what we do for each other. We compete and we want to play and we want to win for each other."
In Saturday's Game 5 win, Chicago got back to the defensive hockey that made it the team that allowed the fewest goals in the regular season.
Chances were hard to come by, but the bright spot for the Bruins was the third period turnaround. Once defenseman Zdeno Chara's slap shot bomb beat Crawford high-glove at 3:40, Boston seemed to wake up offensively.
The Bruins' top line of David Krecji (whose gorgeous saucer pass set up Chara's blast), Horton and Milan Lucic were sent back to the ice again and again, generating chances on nearly every shift, though ultimately not being able to tie the game.
That was the good news. The bad news was that the top line was on the ice for Chicago's two goals.
"Obviously, you don't want to be on for any goals. You want to be a plus player in the game and we weren't," Horton said. "We know if we are going to have any chance to win we definitely have to be in the plus side."
There are questions for both teams tonight on the injury front. Will Patrice Bergeron be able to play for Boston? What about Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews?
But the only questions that matters are, do the Bruins have enough left in the tank and how much will playing at home fuel them?
"We are very desperate right now. We've got to make sure we realize what's on the line," Marchand said. "We don't want to lose this opportunity. It could never come again so we are going to come out very hard (in Game 6)."
If you subscribe to the notion of hockey gods and destiny (with Boston's miraculous Game 7 comeback over Toronto in round one as exhibit A) then it's hard to envision this highly entertaining Original Six matchup going anything fewer than seven games.
Now it's up to the Bruins to make that happen.
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.