Have the Bruins learned to finish?


Is it déjà vu for the Boston Bruins?

For the second straight year, the Bruins find themselves with a 2-0 lead over the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Everyone knows what happened last year: the Bruins went up 3-0 in the series before the Flyers rallied to force a Game 7 in Boston. The Bruins jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period of that game before the Flyers stormed back to win. The loss left fans devastated and the Bruins wondering what to do next.

Since then, the Bruins have changed quite a bit of their roster. Only eight players on this year’s playoff roster were part of the collapse last year, and key players like Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley, Brad Marchand, and Nathan Horton were not part of the loss.

General Manager Peter Chiarelli said it was not his intent to infuse new blood into the roster because of last year’s loss; instead, his intent was simply to improve the team.

“It was not the sole force behind the moves,” Chiarelli said at a press conference last week. “You look at the season, the playoffs, where you want to be, and what you need to get better. Some of those players are no longer here, but that was not by design, a lot of it was just normal turnover.”

That being said, the core of the Boston roster is still intact. Chiarelli, coach Claude Julien, captain Zdeno Chara and key players like Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, Michael Ryder and others were part of the collapse, and those guys have some things to prove. These guys have never made it past the second round of the playoffs, so finishing this series is incredibly important to each of them.

“It’s always in the back of your mind, but we aren’t sitting here thinking about it all the time,” Andrew Ference said. “It’s a different team and a different year and we are confident we will play well.”

So far, things have looked good for the Bruins. Tonight will show how the Bruins play with the pressure of being in the lead and on home ice against a team that is definitely more skilled.

“When you lose your first two games in your home building, I would say that there is a real expectation for the Bruins to win the series now,” Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said to The Sports Network after Game 2. “So it relieves us of the pressure, I believe, a little bit to just go in and play a game in Boston.”

Of course, Laviolette is playing a game, trying to get the Bruins to think about last year. You can’t blame him, but everyone knows the Flyers would much rather be up 2-0 rather than the position they are in no matter what Laviolette is saying.

Onto our Game 3 preview:

Boston’s keys to victory …

1. Clear the zone quickly: Boston has struggled getting the puck out of its zone, and can only rely on the outstanding play of Tim Thomas for so long. Philadelphia knows Boston is going to reverse the puck and try to clear the zone up the wall, and has had a forward or a defenseman pinching hard as soon as the puck is reversed. Even though it’s a more dangerous play, the Bruins need to try to use the center of the ice to clear the zone. The Flyers will pin them in otherwise.

2. Tim Thomas: The Bruins cannot expect Thomas to be as good as he was Monday night, but Thomas still needs to play like he has since Game 5 of the Montreal series, meaning no soft goals, no giant rebounds, and making the saves he needs to make.

3. Stop the odd-man rushes: It seemed like the Flyers had an odd-man rush every time they came up the ice in the third period and overtime of Game 2. Thomas saved the Bruins in that game, but with the talent the Flyers have up front, it’s inevitable they will finish some of these 2-on-1s. The Bruins need to stop those from occurring.

Philadelphia’s keys to victory …

1. Finish odd-man rushes: Sure Thomas robbed the Flyers a number of times, but on several of the chances, if the shooter lifted the puck off the ice, it was a goal. If Philly finishes its odd-man rushes tonight, they win.

2. Everyone (or at least a few more players) play like JVR: James van Riemsdyk was awesome on Monday, skating all over the Bruins and creating chance after chance after chance. Other Flyers played OK, but no one matched JVR in terms of his intensity, on-ice play, or skill.

3.  Score on the power play: Despite all the skill, the Flyers are just 2-of-9 on the power play in this series – and one of those came seconds after a 5-on-3 expired. Boston has been known to take bad penalties, especially late in games (three in the last three minutes of a one-goal game or a tied game in these playoffs), and the Flyers need to make them pay for that.

Prediction: I called everything but the winner last game. I knew the Flyers would dominate early, I knew the Bruins would fight back, and I knew Philly would control the late portions of a close game. I didn’t figure on a Boston OT win on the road. The Bruins have shown the ability to fight and earn gritty wins all season – the opposite of last year’s team, which never fought back. Tonight is a chance to show they have the killer instinct. Boston, 4-3.