NEW YORK — What we have here is a failure to concentrate.
Really, how else to describe it? The Bruins are headed to a Game 5 with the Rangers Saturday at TD Garden after certainly playing well enough much of Thursday night to end their second-round series with a sweep at Madison Square Garden.
They just didn’t think well enough. And now the price they’ll pay is having to work at least a little bit longer if they’re going to advance to the Stanley Cup semifinals.
“ ‘Sloppy’ is the word I used,’’ said Boston coach Claude Julien, who watched his club fall into a collective fog, blow leads of 2-0 and 3-2, and wind up 4-3 losers on a night when the Rangers never held a lead until Chris Kreider’s winner at 7:03 of overtime. “We weren’t as crisp as we were in past games.’’
Their undoing was a near-vaudevillian concoction of the comical (Tuukka Rask slipping on an imaginary banana peel), the lackadaisical (Zdeno Chara lazily swinging out with the puck at his own net), and the numerically challenged (a too many men on the ice call that led to the 3-3 goal).
To make the night just a teeny bit more bizarre, the too many men call came from an officiating crew that included a linesman named Scott Cherrey. The most infamous too many men call in Boston history came with Don Cherry behind the Bruins’ bench.
But history, immediate or distant, was not in play Thursday night inside the World’s Most Famous Arena. Instead, it was the Bruins’ failure to deal with the present, to say focused, to close the deal. Trailing, 2-0, the Rangers were dead on Broadway in the second until Rask inexplicably, unbelievably slipped and dropped derriere-down just outside his crease midway through the second.
“Lost my balance,’’ lamented Rask, noting that such things have happened to him before a couple of times, but only in practice. “And the rest is history.’’
Until then, the Rangers had only a half-dozen shots on net for more than 28 minutes. Their 2-0 deficit might as well have been 20-0. But Rask fell, allowing a long backhand something (not really a shot) by Carl Hagelin to bang off Johnny Boychuk’s stick and find its way into the Boston goal. The lead was down to 2-1 on a goal on which the stumblefooted Rask was really the best playmaker.
Rask again was part of the play when the Rangers knotted it, 2-2, with 1:15 gone in the third. He left a puck behind his net for Chara, and the 6-foot-9-inch captain somewhat nonchalantly attempted to swing out from behind the left post (to Rask’s right). The Trencin Tower of Power was unaware that Derek Stepan had closed from behind, allowing the alert centerman to filch the puck from Chara and tuck it by a startled Rask.
“Tuukka did his job there,’’ said Julien. “Z got stripped and the guy scored, that’s all. Again, it’s a mistake. That’s OK. I mean, how many does [Chara] repair for us?’’
That’s fair. Even the likes of Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque made big boo-boos. It’s the cost of doing business when you’re asked to be the focal point of everything that happens south of your defensive blue line. Chara logged a game-high 31:52 of ice time in a game that last 67:03. He has essentially been assigned every other shift for The Duration.
Given that rate, the greater surprise is that Chara doesn’t commit more mistakes. The larger truth is, however, he needs running mate Dennis Seidenberg back on his right side to fill out the club’s No. 1 shutdown pairing. The Rangers’ winner, by Boston homeboy Kreider, was a perfect example. Rick Nash slid a pass by Chara from the right wall, and it was a charging Kreider who redirected it by Rask from the slot. Rookie Dougie Hamilton, pressed into duty in Seidenberg’s absence, failed to tie up the ex-BC Eagle. Pass, redirect, night over. Far too loose a play by Hamilton in that situation, on a night when the Bruins might have assured themselves upward of seven days off before their next game.
“Knew exactly what [Kreider] was going to do,’’ said Hamilton. “He got his stick in, and I didn’t get my stick in there, too.’’
The too many men call was somewhat of a footnote, but a costly one. It looked as if it was the outcome of Shawn Thornton signaling for a line change, then failing to come off the ice in the body swap. Again, poor concentration, attention to detail ignored. The Rangers were awarded the power play at 8:55 of the third, and with a little less than a minute left on the advantage, another Boston homeboy, Brian Boyle, snapped in a 20-footer, setting up the overtime, and eventually a Saturday date on Causeway Street.
“We were puck-watching on that one,’’ said Julien. “That’s what allowed Boyle to get his shot away.”
Dating to the second round of the 2010 playoffs, when they had a 3-0 series lead on the Flyers, the Bruins are now 5-10 in closeout games. They still should win this series. The historic collapse vs. the Flyers was due, in large part, to losing David Krejci to hand surgery. Despite seeing their series lead drop to 3-1 here, they remain in stable health, albeit with the obvious need for Seidenberg to get back and sub in for Hamilton.
“No panic here,’’ said Julien, noting that he was generally pleased with his team’s effort, though not the result. “If we had been outworked . . . but that’s not the case. We didn’t execute at times, but our work ethic was there.’’
They will be back at it Saturday. Another chance to close out a series. A night when the Bruins should arrive well-schooled in the fact that one way to blow a good lead is to pair it with poor concentration.