TORONTO — Uh-oh. It’s happened again.
Looking tired, slow, and frustrated, and with no obvious answer to reverse that trend, the Bruins scored but one goal Sunday night at the Air Canada Centre, and now they’re down to one last chance to keep their postseason alive.
Game 7, Boston-Toronto, Monday night at the Garden. Two teams going in opposite directions, the Maple Leafs up the ladder to respectability, the Bruins down so far it will be their sixth Game 7 in their last seven playoff series, and they will try to reach Round 2 after leading for a grand total of 44 seconds in their last three games.
“Poor puck management,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien, moments after the Leafs cashed in on third-period goals by Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel. “We talked about it before the game, and we talked about it after the first period.
“We’ve been a Jekyll-and-Hyde hockey team all year. I think it’s important for us to bring the good Bruins team to the table for Game 7.’’
Beyond that, the clearly frustrated Julien refused to say much else. He twice in his postgame news conference curtly refused to talk about his lines. Given what he’s watched of late there was little to say, at least little that might be printable.
The second-line combination, with Patrice Bergeron between Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin, again produced no points. They combined for eight shots, including a Bergeron backhand tuck attempt early in the second that might have changed the course of things if a diving James Reimer hadn’t thwarted it at the right post. But all in all, it’s become a fruitless trio. Bergeron has a goal. Marchand has a pair of assists. Seguin has gone Full Thornton (0-0—0). Total production: 1-2—3, for a group that in Game 6 combined for 51:55 in ice time.
“No comments on my lines,’’ said Julien.
Something will have to change Monday night or this will end for the Bruins the way it did last spring when they staggered into a Game 7 with the Capitals and summarily staggered into their offseason. Julien is loathe to alter his line combinations, pull anyone in from his taxi squad. Times like these don’t call for inserting the likes of Jay Pandolfo, Carl Soderberg, or Kaspars Daugavins, but Julien at least will have to consider rearranging his lines, if only in hopes of finding a better, more productive fit for Jaromir Jagr.
It’s not so much about poor puck management as it is about presence in the offensive end, producing real scoring chances when they have the puck. Once again, the Bruins owned the faceoff dot in Game 6, winning two of every three drops (40 for 60). For all that winning, though, they rarely put sustained pressure on the shaky Reimer. They also owned a narrow 30-26 shot advantage. For a club that again and again starts with the puck, it rarely produces the kind of finish that matters most — pucks in the net.
“We have to be more determined to get pucks to the net,’’ said veteran blue liner Dennis Seidenberg.
And once to the net, they have to show the kind of fight that won them the Cup in 2011, especially what they showed in the Vancouver series after dropping the first two games. Like most clubs, the Bruins are better when they are angry, a trait that especially applies to top-line wingers Milan Lucic (the lone goal Sunday) and Nathan Horton (one shot in 17:38 of ice time). David Krejci, their center, took two shots all night, neither of which found Reimer, never mind the back of the net.
The Leafs, faced with a much sharper netminder in Tuukka Rask, don’t have tremendous net drive or presence, either. But they’ve been more nimble in the offensive zone in the last couple of games, and aggressive when it counts. Their first goal had defenseman Phaneuf camped at the right post to tip home a Nazem Kadri wrister. Rarely, if ever, do Boston blue liners venture so deep in the zone. Ex-Bruin Phil Kessel potted the 2-0 lead, quick to run into parting traffic to pot home a loose puck.
“He is a goal scorer,’’ said Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, his club now with a chance to advance after falling into a 3-1 series deficit with a pair of losses here last week. “He knows how to find space and create space. And we’ve got him playing stop-and-go hockey now, instead of specifically just a rush game.’’
Seguin is playing the rush game, dashing around, claiming pucks, too often turning them over or firing long-range shots that have zero chance of going in the net. He has turned into Sisyphus in this series, play after play showing promise, then rolling steadily downhill.
The killer on the Boston bench was Kessel’s goal, not only for who he is, but because it had Bergeron, Boston’s master faceoff man, losing the draw in the defensive end. The loss led to Toronto possession, a shot, a loose puck, then a goal. If the Bruins could turn such possession into equal gold, this series would have been over in five. Instead, the clock has been set for 7 p.m. Causeway Street time.
“We know we are going into a hostile building,’’ said Carlyle. “We just have to make sure we play our game to a higher level.’’
Same for the Bruins. Only their higher level right now looks like a much bigger leap than the one the Leafs must make. They have to move ahead while falling backward. The Bruins need first to reverse their fall, swap their Jekyll for Hyde, maybe even swap their Seguin for a Jagr. Nothing says desperate like uh-oh. And uh-oh is where they find themselves now.