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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Claude Julien's Boston Bruins: Blowing 3-0 leads for life

I can't explain why but no lead ever seems safe when you're a Boston Bruins fan. A three-goal lead in hockey should be analogous to a three-touchdown lead in football or 20-point lead in basketball.

Still, the B's have found themselves on top 3-0 last postseason in Game 7 in the Flyers (how'd that one end?) and this afternoon against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals and in both cases, they have lost. I can never recall a team in any sport that was so good playing from behind and yet so consistently terrible playing with a lead. It's insane.

What is it about three-goal leads with the Bruins? That doesn't even count the Game 2 win against Tampa Bay where Boston went up 6-3 but barely survived for a 6-5 win.

Today's 5-3 win by the Lightning, notice they scored five unanswered goals, was a considerable nut shot to the Stanley Cup hopes of the Bruins and their long suffering fans.

Perhaps we should have known the sky would soon fall (it was Judgement Day after all) as Boston quieted the St. Pete Times Forum crowd with a trio of goals in the first period. There wasn't a strong one in the bunch as Patrice Bergeron scored an unassisted goal at 11:47 after a terrible Tomas Kaberle style giveaway behind Tampa Bay's goal.

The B's went up 2-0 on an even stranger goal as Michael Ryder skated in on a 2-on-1, waited too long to pass it but was beyond lucky to have the puck deflect off a Lightning defenseman and behind goaltender Dwayne Roloson (6 saves). Chris Kelly and Kaberle assisted on Ryder's fifth of the playoffs.

The dream first period was closed out with an unassisted shorthanded goal by Bergeron at 17:58. His long shot went right through Roloson's five hole (he would be pulled after the first period).

We all should have known that there was way too much time left for the Lightning and their potent offense. They're not the Bruins, they wouldn't go out that quietly. As Boston retreated back into their defensive shell (thanks Claude), Teddy Purcell scored a quick pair of goals (at 6:55 and 7:58) to pull Tampa Bay within 3-2.

Neither was Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas' (32 saves) fault as they came directly from snipe city. Purcell undressed Adam McQuaid on the first one with a toe drag then scored on a low backhander that Thomas couldn't reach. Simon Gagne assisted on that one.

Mattias Ohlund and Vincent Lecavalier assisted on Purcell's fourth of the playoffs which was a high shot over Thomas's blocker side.

Most coaches would probably call a timeout at that point since the team was in full meltdown mode but not Julien. Nope, best to play it out at that point and see what you're rattled team can do.

To nobody's surprise, Bergenheim tied it up at 10:53 (his 10th of the playoffs) off a rebound from Domenic Moore. Safe to say the Lightning didn't look back from there. A timeout there would have made sense too but no dice. Clearly, Claude doesn't need timeouts. I mean, who could argue with his results?

At this point, if I was a smarter man I would have gone outside and enjoyed the beautiful day (the first in weeks) but no I'm a dumb ass Bruins fan. I knew that they weren't coming out of this one with a win but I sat there like a goon and watch them piss down their leg as always.

The best I can say is that at least they didn't prolong the agony and send it to overtime. Simon Gagne had the game-winner as he scored his fourth of the playoffs at 6:54 from Ryan Malone. Still plenty of time left in the frame but who thought the B's had a prayer at that point? They continued to skate their lane while the conveyor belt of four lines rolled out and not really do much of anything (which could be said of the final two periods) and Martin St. Louis closed it out with an empty net goal at 19:23 (his eighth of the playoffs) from Gagne and Victor Hedman.

Mike Smith (21 saves) played the final two periods and didn't allow a goal but I honestly can't think of one above average save that he had to make. Boston didn't test him at all (and why would you with a goaltender that just got thrown in there?) but regardless, he should get the start in Game 5.

We have Sunday to cry about this latest choke job but then it's back to business on Monday as the teams return to Boston for Game 5 at TD Garden. Who knows what to expect from the Bruins? They could have a short memory and play well or they could have an emotional hangover (helped by their rightly paranoid crowd) and they'll lose again, which will probably signal their demise. So yeah Game 5 is important but good luck guessing what is going to happen.

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