Bruins Evoke Shades of 2011 With Struggling Power Play, Spectacular Saves, Another Game 7 Showdown


April 22, 2012

Bruins Evoke Shades of 2011 With Struggling Power Play, Spectacular Saves, Another Game 7 ShowdownIt took six games, but these playoffs are finally starting to resemble last year's memorable run.

That will be great if the Bruins can manage another happy ending like they did last June in Vancouver, but in case anyone forgot just how nerve-wracking that run to the Cup was, this opening-round series with the Capitals should be a suitable refresher.

The infuriatingly ineffective power play that plagued the Bruins last postseason is back with a vengeance. So too is some of the magic in the crease created by those improbably acrobatic Tim Thomas saves. And Games 7s? Well, by now you must know the Bruins just can't avoid those do-or-die situations.

Let's start with the power play. The Bruins opened this series 0-for-14 with the man advantage, looking poised to repeat last year's dismal 0-for-21 performance in the first round against Montreal. But Boston finally showed some signs of life by scoring on its 15th chance in Game 5 on Saturday, then added another on its second opportunity late in the first period in Game 6 on Sunday in Washington.

It was just a tease, though, as the power outage soon returned. The Bruins finished Sunday 1-for-5 on the power play, leaving them 2-for-20 on the series. Even worse, a four-minute advantage in the second period after Alex Ovechkin was given a double minor for cutting Zdeno Chara with a high stick was so ineffective it nearly cost the Bruins the game as the Capitals fed off the momentum from the kill and turned the tide of the contest.

"Yeah it did, at one point it almost cost us," Bruins coach Claude Julien told reporters in Washington. "That four-minute power play just kind of sucked momentum out of our hockey club and gave them some momentum. I thought after they killed that four-minute penalty, they really picked up some life, and in the second period, they were without a doubt the better team."

The Bruins stayed alive largely because Thomas started channeling his 2011 Conn Smythe self once again. Thomas has been shaky at times in this series, but he came up with some huge stops on Sunday, none better than the vintage dive back across the crease to block Marcus Johansson's bid at a wide-open net midway through the second. The play bore an uncanny resemblance to his remarkable paddle save to rob Tampa Bay's Steve Downie in last year's conference final — a stop no one ever expected to see duplicated, yet very nearly was Sunday.

And thanks to saves like that, and overtime heroics like the ones the Bruins mustered last year against Montreal, Boston is once again back in a Game 7. The Bruins won three seventh games last year, the first team ever to do that in a single postseason run.

That came after having their season ended three straight years in Game 7 defeats, so the Bruins know well the feeling of being on both sides of such a dramatic finish. They are hoping that their success in such situations last year will provide the blueprint to survive another decisive showdown now.

"You expect your team to show again the experience that they?ve gained in the past," Julien said. "I said that tonight before the game, before Game 6. When you go through those kinds of situations, you can handle those a lot better. We had a Game 6 last year, do or die in the Finals, that we were able to overcome. So, I'm hoping it served us tonight. And we had three Game 7s last year. There's no guarantees in anything, but you got to like the experience that you have going into Game 7."

The Bruins are aware of the growing similarities to last year's run and are hoping that the results continue to follow the same pattern, all while recognizing that at some point they'd like to give themselves, and their fans, a break and not have every series go down to the wire.

"It's been a great series," Bruins forward Tyler Seguin told reporters in Washington after scoring the Game 6 winner in overtime. "Washington's a great team. We've been battling, but for whatever reason, including last year, we never seem to make it easy on ourselves. We always want to go the extra mile. So Game 7 at the Garden, this is what we've been working for, home-ice advantage, so we've got to seize the opportunity."

They did that throughout the spring of 2011, and it suddenly seems like a time warp is going on with how much this series is beginning to resemble the start of that run.

Have a question for Douglas Flynn? Send it to him via Twitter at @douglasflynn or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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