WILMINGTON, Mass. — Boston Bruins winger Milan Lucic admitted last spring that he could sense change was on the way.
The Bruins were trailing 4-1 in the third period of what appeared to be a Game 7 disaster in a first-round playoff series. Had they lost that deciding game — the culmination of blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Toronto Maple Leafs — the Bruins no doubt would look different when they reconvened the next season.
“You start thinking to yourself, ‘Is this the end of this group here?’ Because it probably would have been if we didn’t win this game,” Lucic said that after that game.
Losing wasn’t in the cards, though, as the Bruins stormed back in the third period to tie the score, then won the game in overtime. It was one of the most memorable wins in franchise history and propelled the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final. An incredible win, yes, but also a reminder of how fragile playoff life can be and how dire the potential consequences could be. That’s a lesson the Bruins hope they finally can apply this season.
Boston has won two of its last three first-round playoff series, but it certainly hasn’t been easy: The Bruins have gone to overtime in Game 7 in each of their last three seasons. Last year and in 2011, the Bruins were able to escape — and eventually reach the Stanley Cup Final. In 2012, Joel Ward potted an overtime goal that silenced TD Garden and marked the final game Tim Thomas ever wore the spoked B.
“It just seems to be the biggest battle for us and the hardest one to get through, and I don’t think it’s going to be any different coming into this series,” Lucic said after practice Wednesday, two days before this year’s first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings begins. “We’ve got to be better prepared to bring our best because you talk about the last three years, the other team hasn’t taken us lightly and they’ve given us their best. Maybe we kind of overlooked the other team a little too much where we’ve kind of got ourselves in holes.”
The most important step in ensuring this year isn’t a repeat of the past three might be to start quickly. The Bruins faced 2-0 and 3-1 deficits in 2011 and 2012 and needed comebacks just to force a Game 7 in those series.
“Every round is different,” Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said. “The first one you’re trying to get your team going and it might take a couple of games that you can’t really afford. So that might be the challenge for everybody.”
Then again, that doesn’t always guarantee a breeze through the first round. The Bruins jumped to a 3-1 series lead last year against the Maple Leafs before allowing Toronto back into the series in Games 5 and 6.
Whatever the case may be, the Bruins can’t afford any sort of first-round letdown.