Commentary

Been there, done that

Facing playoff elimination, Bruins rely on experience of handling pressure

Updated: April 21, 2012, 11:16 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- When the Boston Bruins were facing elimination a year ago in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Montreal Canadiens, Bruins veteran Shawn Thornton was asked about pressure prior to Game 7.

"Pressure?" Thornton responded. "Pressure is having five kids with no job. That's pressure."

The Bruins obviously won that series, and two more Game 7 situations in the conference finals and Cup finals, en route to the organization's first Stanley Cup title in 36 years. Boston needs to rely on that experience to stave off elimination once again.

This spring's opponent, the Washington Capitals, defeated the Bruins 4-3 in Game 5 on Saturday at TD Garden and now hold a 3-2 series lead. Boston will need to respond quickly because less than 21 hours after Saturday's loss, puck drop for Game 6 is set for 3 p.m. on Sunday in a hostile environment at Verizon Center.

Thornton's tone was a little more serious on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeChris Kelly
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireA dejected Chris Kelly skates off the ice as the Capitals celebrate their 4-3 win Saturday. "We can't hang our heads," Chara said. "We need to play to win. It's as simple as that."

"Obviously we don't want to be here, but we've been here before," he said. "Experience should help and we have to focus on one game and not the big picture, so we can force [Game 7] back here."

Despite the one-game deficit, Bruins coach Claude Julien said he is feeling confident with his group.

"We're maybe in trouble but we're not dead," he said.

Capitals coach Dale Hunter has his team playing well against the defending Stanley Cup champions, and even though he made some comments earlier in the week suggesting the Bruins players were head hunters, he spoke glowingly about them on Saturday. He knows now is not the time to give Boston any extra motivation.

"Every game has been tough with these guys," Hunter said. "They're a good team. They are not going to quit. They play hard out there. They have some real good players. I think every game is a tough game against these guys."

After trailing 2-0 in the second period, the Bruins showed their heart and desire and knotted the game by scoring two goals in a 28-second span. Momentum was clearly in Boston's favor.

After the third period started, however, Boston lost that momentum when former Bruin Mike Knuble, who was a healthy scratch for the first three games of this series, scored at 3:21 as Washington gained a 3-2 lead.

Bruins goalie Tim Thomas said after the game he wished he could have controlled the rebound better before Knuble jumped all over it.

"I'll take full responsibility for that third goal," Thornton said. "The rebound came out pretty hard and I tried to get my stick on top of his, but he got just enough of it. We're both right-handed, we're both swinging for it and he got it -- my bad."

As far as the game-winning tally, a power-play goal by the Capitals' Troy Brouwer, Thomas admitted it was one he should have stopped.

"The last goal, he fooled me and beat me clean," Thomas said. "He's coming down with a lot of speed, he shot and I read that the shot was going lower and by the time I even realized where the shot was going, I didn't even have time to raise my hand."

Many times during the 2011 season the Bruins faced adversity and they overcame it. Against the Canadiens in the first round, they faced elimination and they beat it. In the conference finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, they faced elimination and they won. Then, one win away from hoisting the Stanley Cup, the Bruins beat the Canucks in Vancouver in Game 7 of the finals.

"It's good to know that we've been in tough spots before and responded well," Thomas said. "Having said that, we've got to bring it and do it. We can't take it for granted that we're going to do it, it's up to us to do it."

Game 6 against the Washington Capitals on Sunday is not the Stanley Cup finals, but if Boston fails to win this time, its defense of the title will be officially over.

"We can't hang our heads," Zdeno Chara said. "We need to play to win. It's as simple as that. We can't be thinking about anything else. We have to win."

It's called pressure.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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