“Kids, it’s so great to see your smiling faces here this morning,’’ an esteemed Northeastern commencement speaker might have said as he looked out from the TD Garden podium Friday morning. “This is your graduation day. Good on you, all of you. You’ve earned it.’’
The building was jam-packed. No sign of the deep, sudden sadness that befell the arena only hours earlier. Thousands of NU students, with faces aglow and dreams brimming out from under mortarboards, hung on his every word.
“I see your parents here today,’’ the speaker continued. “I know they are so proud, albeit substantially poorer for their pride.” (Crowd chuckles, a couple of dads break into heaving sobs.)
“Now, I’ll be brief with my words of wisdom, words that I sincerely hope all of you will hold ever-dear.
“As you head out onto Causeway Street today, if you remember but one thing I say here this morning, please hold this close to your hearts: Sometimes life just sucks.’’
Such was Life Lesson 101 the Bruins left lingering heavy in the Garden’s fetid air late Thursday night following the double-overtime 4-3 two-hander delivered across their noggins by the Canadiens. More accurately, it was half-delivered by the Habs and their exceptional goalie, Carey Price, who withstood a barrage of shots on par with what our local politicians must deflect at the annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast.
The other half of the loss, and ultimately the root cause of the Bruins falling behind, 1-0, in the best-of-seven second-round series, was the fact that Bruins shooters outright flunked finishing school. They fired a total of 98 times at Price over the course of 84 minutes and 17 seconds, and I’d say roughly one-third of those attempts were bona fide big-boy chances, many of them from Price’s doorstep or in that sweet spot deep in the slot and between the faceoff dots.
In fact, TSN on Friday morning reported that the Bruins “out-chanced” the Habs, 29-13. Sounds spot-on to me, even for an old dog who is, shall we say, analytics-challenged.
Suffice to say, the Bruins had a ton of great chances and didn’t extract their pound of flesh. Combined, Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton fired 13 times and only three of those made it to the net. That’s a full pot of decaf shooting.
But then again, David Krejci squeezed off seven shots, five of which hit Price, and he failed to push one over the line. Krejci has yet to pot a goal in six postseason games in 2014.
“We hit some posts and he made some great saves,’’ noted Krejci’s right winger, Jarome Iginla, who fired six shots, landed four, and went home empty-handed. “Sometimes we didn’t put it up or elevate it when we had a chance — myself included.
“But we got great chances and great looks and I thought we had some really good zone time.’’
True. Every word. But because hockey is hockey, good effort and “having the better of play’’ is not always bankable in the win column.
It is usually rewarded, but often times not, which is the mind-twisting yin and yang of the crazy game.
So many of the numbers pointed to the Bruins winning Game 1, even if they did fall behind, 2-0, by early in the third period, even if they never led, not for a single second, even if their usually trusty penalty-killing went bust twice in three outings.
All in all, they turned in a very strong performance, carried play, squeezed off shots as if this were a paintball tournament . . . and lost. Game 2 is Saturday, 12:30 p.m., when it will be time yet again for the Bruins to fight their way back into the series, as they had to in Round 1 vs. the Red Wings.
It’s always so easy to identify the goat. Following the loss, in fact, Boston goalie Tuukka Rask identified himself, repeatedly, bluntly.
“I was [expletive],’’ he said, later adding, “When you suck, you suck.’’
The Thin Finn is the 180-degree opposite of the portly Tim Thomas, who in his Boston tenure grinded his teammates’ gears over and over again by deftly detailing how goals ended up in his net.
Postgame, with exacting recall, Thomas would walk through the goals and in most every case, the fault rested in someone else. And in most cases, he was right. He messed up, but it was rare, and his analysis made that clear. No way to win friends with co-workers.
Not so with Rask. He heard Friday’s commencement speech long ago and took it to heart.
“Overtime goals . . . it’s someone’s mistake, right?’’ said Rask, feeling that he should have stopped the P.K. Subban slapper that ended the evening at 11:26 p.m. “It was mine.’’
Rask was much too hard on himself, but he clearly uses that self-abuse as a motivational tool. It’s his way, and it works, quite well. He left the building angry, intent on reshaping the ire into a sharper performance for Game 2.
Goalies don’t get outplayed, per se, by the guy who stands in the opposite cage. But Rask was outperformed by Price, which has become a recurring, no-doubt annoying theme for the Boston goalie.
“I think as a team we deserved to win,’’ said Rask. “But from a goalie’s standpoint, Price played a lot better than I did.’’
Rask’s performance, substandard by his Vezina-worthy performance this season, would have been far less noteworthy had Boston’s forwards and defensemen made hay with their shots. True, Price was on, but he was too often let off the hook by Boston’s lack of hands, slipping concentration around the cage, utterly botched execution.
The forwards, across all four lines, were especially at fault. To their credit, they fought through to the net, fired shots. A goalie botches a save, the puck goes in the net, and everyone picks him to pieces. But a forward misfires on an open net and it’s rare anyone takes note (an exception being Brad Marchand’s two gaffes in Game 4 at Detroit).
Seven of Boston’s forwards Thursday night missed the net a combined 13 times (three each by Patrice Bergeron and Lucic). Gregory Campbell had a pair of misses, both times misfiring from very short range.
This is a gang that needs to learn how to shoot straight.
Size matters in the shooting game. It mattered significantly that the Bruins amassed 98 shots (51 on goal). It reflected how they controlled possession (in part the product of filching 58 percent of the draws), how they gained zone time, how they kept up the physical and mental pressure on Price. All well, good, and important.
But in the end, all those attempts also underscored their need to be smarter, more assertive, more efficient with their chances. While they missed with 17 shots, they also had another 30 blocked. Five by Reilly Smith were rubbed out. But to his credit, the eager winger shot 11 times overall, often from the areas where the battle was the most intense.
His predecessor at the same spot, Tyler Seguin, might have potted five goals on identical chances, had he endeavored to get to those spots to take those shots.
“We have to find a way to bury those great opportunities,’’ said Boston coach Claude Julien. “That’s probably where there’s some regret.’’
Not probably. Definitely. It’s essential to the Bruins getting right back in the series, because the graduation speech is only tougher in the Bell Centre.