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Bruins refuse to be haunted by last year’s letdown

Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien gives instructions to his team during the third period against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 5 of a first-round game in the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs, in Boston, Saturday, April 26, 2014. The Bruins won 4-2. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien gives instructions to his team during the third period against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 5 of a first-round game in the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs, in Boston, Saturday, April 26, 2014. The Bruins won 4-2. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Maybe they weren’t thinking about last year. Maybe they were truly living in the present and taking it one cliché, I mean game, at a time. But there’s no doubt the Bruins arrived at TD Garden yesterday with a sense of urgency, and then they used it to take care of business and the Detroit Red Wings with a professional 4-2 victory, ending the first-round series in a tidy five games.

“That’s your job. You guys have to create stories and I think a lot of it was to recreate last year’s meltdown, whatever you want to call it, from the 3-1 lead against Toronto,” Boston Coach Claude Julien said. “But as I said before the game, we don’t live in the past, we don’t live in the future, we live in the present.”

Comparing last year’s first-round series against Toronto to this year’s first-round series against Detroit doesn’t feel like “creating a story.” It feels inevitable. After all, the Bruins went up 3-1 on the Leafs with an overtime win on the road, just like they went up 3-1 on the Wings with an overtime win on the road.

Maybe “meltdown” is too strong a word, but last year the Bruins did seem to let down after taking that series lead against Toronto. They didn’t score until midway through the third period in Game 5, didn’t score until there were just 26 seconds left in Game 6 and lost both contests by 2-1 scores. The letdown lasted until the final, unforgettable minute and a half of regulation in Game 7 when they scored twice in 31 seconds to force overtime and eventually claim a 5-4 win for the ages.

And truth be told, not wrapping up series early has been a recurring problem for Boston for years. Even after yesterday’s win, the team is just 6-9 in non-game Game 7 potential clinchers during Julien’s seven-year tenure.

“None of that stuff crept into our heads today,” Julien insisted. “We just knew that, if anything, you learn from those experiences and you don’t want it to be repeated.”

It sure felt like the Bruins had learned their lesson. They played with energy and purpose right from the start, looking determined to end this series as soon as possible and not repeat past mistakes, even if they weren’t thinking, or talking, about them.

“We never talked about last year’s series in Toronto,” Julien said. “All we were focused on was doing the job today and not taking another trip to Detroit.”

That focus appeared contagious even before the game began when Rene Rancourt gave not one, not two, but three fist pumps after singing the national anthem. And after the puck dropped, the Bruins delivered immediate intensity worthy of the three fists.

Newly-minted Vezina finalist Tuukka Rask showed he wasn’t about to ease off on his focus before the game was even two minutes old. A slapper from Kyle Quincey somehow slipped through three bodies in front of the net, but Rask calmly watched the puck into his glove. Boston’s layered walls of formidable defense seriously limited Detroit’s true scoring chances during the entire series, but when Rask was called upon to make a save, even a spectacular one, he delivered at a special rate, stopping 146 of the 152 shots he faced in the five games against Detroit.

Less than a minute after Rask’s save on Quincey, Milan Lucic drew a hooking penalty when he just kept churning his legs as he was lugging the puck up ice. That hard work paid off with a power-play goal from Loui Eriksson and a 1-0 Boston lead. The score was set up by Dougie Hamilton, who rushed though the Red Wings defense like had an E-Z Pass, just like he did to score a power-play goal of his own in Game 3.

Last year it took Boston more than 50 minutes to muster a goal in Game 5 against Toronto. Yesterday it took just 3:27. And once the Bruins established control, they never let it go.

The Red Wings went on a power play a minute after Eriksson scored, but Boston blocked three of their shots during the man advantage and only one puck reached Rask. And the Bruins weren’t just throwing their bodies in front of pucks, they were throwing them into the red and white sweaters. Boston’s defensemen were, as usual, especially physical, highlighted early on when Johnny Boychuk dropped Luke Glendening behind the Bruins net.

When Detroit did finally answer with a goal at 14:41 of the second period, it took the Bruins only about five minutes to respond as Zdeno Chara scored on a 4-on-3 power play with just four seconds left in the period. It would have been a letdown to go into the dressing room tied 1-1 after two, but Boston wasn’t letting any kind of letdowns slip into the Garden yesterday.

The Bruins kept momentum on their side with an early goal in the third, withstood a late flurry from Detroit near the end of the period and sealed things with an empty-netter. It was all very business-like, very professional. And very unlike last year.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)


Bruins eliminate Red Wings; Canadiens up next

Saturday, April 26, 2014

BOSTON – The regular season wasn’t much of a struggle for the Boston Bruins, and neither was their first-round playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings. Tuukka Rask made 31 saves yesterday, and the defending Eastern Conference champions eliminated the Red Wings with a 4-2 victory in Game 5. After finishing the regular season with the best record in the …

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