If they win on Saturday at TD Garden, they will win their first-round series against the Red Wings.
Now, they just have to go out and do it.
After an emotional overtime win in Game 4 that has put the Red Wings on the brink of elimination, the Bruins held an optional skate on Friday afternoon. Most players opted to stay off the ice in preparation for Saturday afternoon's Game 5 — and while preparation certainly involves some physical work, a lot of it is mental, given the implications of a possible win.
“You get these opportunities, and sometimes, it’s more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge,” said goaltender Tuukka Rask, who made 35 stops against the Red Wings on Thursday. “You kind of start thinking about the end score of the game before the game even starts, and you kind of feel and hope that you get to do that."
"But I think we’ve learned over the years that it doesn’t help us. We just have to focus on our job and the game itself and then the results will take care of themselves. I hope we learned from the past years and are ready for tomorrow.”
The Bruins remember last year. They remember being up 3-1 in their series against Toronto, and they remember being pushed to seven games. But now is not the time to be thinking about that. It’s a new year, it’s a new team and it’s a new opponent.
“You’d like to think that we gained that experience for a reason, and we can use that in a useful way,” said forward Gregory Campbell. “I think it just comes down to turning the page. Being up 3-1 is obviously a good position to be in, but it doesn’t mean much because playoffs are so based on game-to-game performances that you really have to do your best at every opportunity. I think we’re just looking at last night as a big win, but tomorrow is another one.”
As they have been preaching all year long, the Bruins are just taking it game by game, and right now, the entirety of their focus revolves around Game 5.
“We accomplished something on the road we really wanted to do,” Rask said. “We have a chance to close the series at home. It’s an opportunity we really have to use. Won’t be easy, but seeing how our game has improved during this series, it’s a good sign. I think coming home tomorrow, we just have to really focus on our start and try to get that lead and protect it.”
On Thursday, the Bruins proved that they have the resilience it takes to succeed in the postseason. They went down 2-0 in the first period and got severely outplayed for the first half of the game, but they found the will to climb back into it. Slowly but surely, they chipped away at Detroit’s lead until they evened the score and eventually won on Jarome Iginla’s overtime goal.
“It’s a huge momentum booster, and we talked about it as soon as we went down 2-0 — the only way we were going to get back into it was just to claw back into it, one shift at a time,” said winger Reilly Smith. “You’re not going to score two right away, so get that one, use it as a building block and build momentum. Stay positive, and look for that next one.”
With a win like that comes confidence. The Bruins has won in every way possible during this series — they have won close games, they have won not-so-close games — so they know that now matter what Saturday brings, they will be ready.
“I think [the comeback] says a lot, and I think it starts with the leadership in the room, from guys like [Zdeno Chara] and [Patrice Bergeron],” Smith said. “They push that you always still have a chance to win a game, and it was tough giving them that lead at the start, but I think we did a great job battling back and just playing shift by shift and trying to claw back into it.”
As always, though, there were plenty of areas of improvement to take away from Thursday’s game. First and foremost, the B’s know they need to come out stronger, and they need to impose their game from the outset.
“We know that tomorrow’s win is just as important as the first three,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “But there is meaning to tomorrow’s win, and that is what is a little bit different. We can end it tomorrow, but the urgency still has to be there, and the focus still has to be there. I thought our first period yesterday – it wasn’t that it was bad, but we didn’t quite play our game, and because of that, they were able to get some opportunities and some speed through the neutral zone.”
“We didn’t have the numbers coming back. It wasn’t so much the stretch guy -- it was more of the second wave that was coming through. Once we got that taken care of, our game kind of found its rhythm again and we started playing the way we wanted to.”
The B’s were outshot 15-5 in the first period, and they allowed the Red Wings to use everything in their arsenal — the home crowd, the return of captain Henrik Zetterberg, the addition of Todd Bertuzzi as a net-front presence — to their advantage.
While it is certainly encouraging that the Bruins know there is no lead too big for them to overcome, the goal on Saturday is to get out to the kind of start they did in Games 2 and 3, when they put the Wings into early holes they could not climb out of. They made the comeback, but they don't want to be in a situation where they have to make the comeback in the first place.
“You see it every night — I watch a ton of games, everybody watches games, and leads in the playoffs are — more so than the regular season — are not safe,” Campbell said. “I think it’s the intensity of games. I think it’s momentum swings of games — things change so quickly over the course of a game or a period, a couple shifts here or there, and teams usually build on that momentum.”
“It’s a veteran group in here, an experienced group. I don’t think we were extremely happy with the effort that we gave in the first period. We wanted to come out a little bit harder, and credit to them — they came out hard and played well — but we knew we had more in the tank. So whether we won or lost the game, it was just more about us kind of giving everything that we had, and it was clear that we didn’t in the first period.”
No matter what Saturday brings, and no matter how strong or how emotionally charged the Red Wings are at the start, there are elements of Thursday’s game that the Bruins will try to recreate -- particularly the positivity that they used to generate that comeback.
“If one guy’s negative, it starts to spread,” said defenseman Johnny Boychuk. “You have to all be in it together, no matter what you do. You just have to stay positive. Everybody has to be together and positive. Just push out all that bad energy.”