They were down in their opening series, multiple times, but pulled it out in seven games. They were down in their opening game of the second round, but came back to win it in overtime. From an identity forged in the regular season to one carried into the playoffs, these Bruins are nothing if not resilient.
After a disappointing Game 2, they’ll need that now more than ever.
On a chippy, mistake-prone night filled with missed opportunity and poor puck management, the Bruins went down when Matt Duchene sent a rebound sailing past Tuukka Rask to give Columbus a double-overtime win. It was the only time the home team trailed all night, but it was the only time that mattered, and the 3-2 loss sends the series off to Columbus tied at a game apiece.
The Bruins tried to stay upright, but couldn’t sustain much offense in the face of a solid team defensive effort by Columbus, a bruising, physical effort that kept the Bruins chasing the action most of the night. That they led early, 1-0, and tied it late, 2-2, was a credit to their core identity — resilience.
It is a characteristic developed over the course of a regular season and coveted when the calendar flips to the postseason. We saw more evidence of it Saturday night at TD Garden, with a player taking the ice after a hit to the face that left a bloody tear trailing down his cheek (take a bow Sean Kuraly), with the splayed body or outstretched arm of a goaltender making clutch saves in the final minutes of regulation or the opening minutes of a second straight OT game (take a bow Tuukka Rask).
Really, we’ve seen it from the Bruins all season, their ability to ride the wave of a long, exhausting schedule to clinch the No. 2 seed in the conference heading into the playoffs coming out immediately as the second season began. Otherwise, they might never have survived the first-round bloodshed. The Bruins emerged from their wild seven-game opener against Toronto while the rest of the hockey world imploded in a heap of upsets, sending top seed Tampa Bay, defending champion Washington, and perennial playoff power Pittsburgh home early, survived because they could take a punch and keep on fighting.
They rebounded from a similar 1-1 start on home ice, though that one began with an opening game loss, and they rebounded from a 3-2 deficit by winning back-to-back games — at Toronto and then at TD Garden. And while it’s too early to sound any real alarms over one more home loss, the toll of a seven-game series against the stunning sweep Columbus scored against the Lightning does raise the specter of fatigue. Factor in an extra period-plus Saturday night and the Bruins are no doubt going to have to dip into that reservoir of resilience.
Because on and on this one went, deep into the cold Boston night, past midnight, past the last train departures, through the jelly-legged late shifts of a tired team, extended by near misses and great saves on both sides, daring someone, anyone, to prove they could throw that final punch. Duchene was the one to connect.
Now it’s up to the Bruins to get off the mat. With history as their guide, they believe they can. It’s what they’ve spent a season doing.
Resilience doesn’t happen by accident, or even by design. It happens when the right group of players comes together under the right coach. Ask the Red Sox, who wore everyone out a season ago with their relentlessness, constantly picking each other up. Ask the Patriots, who confounded the NFL world yet again by turning one of their more inconsistent regular seasons of the Bill Belichick era into another Super Bowl coda.
Much like their championship predecessors, the Bruins have a good thing going in the locker room. Guys like each other. They like playing together. As the veteran Patrice Bergeron likes to put it, they “fill each other’s tanks.” When Rask bailed them out with a couple of amazing saves at the start of that Game 7 win against Toronto, they rewarded him with two late first-period goals that allowed him to breathe. They don’t panic, and they bounce back well. Three different times they trailed in the Toronto series, and three different times they came back.
“I mean it’s unbelievable,” midseason acquisition Marcus Johansson said after the opening win against Columbus, when the Bruins turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 overtime win. “The group we have is very special. I mean there is nothing that fazes us. I think the way we stepped up after they scored their two goals and came back and we never gave up. That’s something special. ”
It was Johansson’s beautiful pass to Charlie Coyle that won that game in OT, precisely the kind of on-ice manifestation of locker-room chemistry, a type of chemistry that leads to the trust in each other than they can recover when things go south.
Some of it can be attributed to the experience in the room, particularly in the postseason. The Bruins boast a core of five players who were here the last time they won it all (in 2011), in captain Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand, Bergeron, David Krejci, and Rask. “You go back to their most successful season with that core group,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “They were down 2-0 at home to Vancouver. They came back to win a Stanley Cup. They know what it takes. They know what it takes. It’s not the end of the world to have things not go your way right away. You have to work hard to correct it to play the right way, so I have to credit it all to the guys in the room.”
Now would be a good time to show it. Again.