Saturday, May 7, 2011
Year of the Collapse is finally over
By Joe McDonald ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins no doubt enjoyed themselves Friday night after completing a long-awaited sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
It just took them one calendar year to do so.
If you're a hockey fan, you know what happened in the spring of 2010 to the Bruins. If not, here's a quick reminder: Boston had a 3-0 series lead on the Flyers, but Philadelphia won four straight to mount an historic comeback and beat the Bruins.
Since then, the Bruins have had to answer questions about that monumental collapse. After a disappointing offseason, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien addressed the team at the start of training camp. The message to the returning players and the new guys was a simple one: Learn from that experience and make sure it doesn't happen again.
In a script written for Hollywood, the Bruins and Flyers met again in the Eastern Conference semifinals this season.
The Bruins' sweep of the Flyers was definitely something to celebrate considering last year's monumental collapse.
The Bruins won Game 1. They won Game 2. They won Game 3.
Before Game 4, it was obvious the Bruins wanted to end this series as quickly as possible and did not want to allow the Flyers any momentum.
Boston won Game 4 to complete the sweep.
"It's something that has been hanging over our heads for over a year," Julien said after Friday's 5-1 victory. "Even though we tried to turn the page, we were reminded every day in this series.
"It's something that is there and will be there -- what happened last year. But to come back and win that series, to me, is pretty convincing ... . I thought we played extremely well. It's nice to be able to bounce back, and you need to take time to appreciate what you have done, and at the same time, you really have to stay focused because the toughest games are still to come. And we have to be prepared that we are a group that believes we can go far in these playoffs here and farther than we have so far. And it's up to us to keep that focus and keep moving forward."
Whenever asked about last year's collapse, the players said all the right things, and they obviously responded on the ice with their performance.
"It feels great; it's nice that we're not going to have to answer any more of those questions and we can put that behind us," said forward Milan Lucic. "I think we learned a lot from last year, that experience, and I think it made us a more determined hockey club. I think you could see it in us."
In the first round of these playoffs, against the Montreal Canadiens, the Bruins lost the first two games but responded and won the series in seven games. That set the tone for the semifinals and the rematch with the Flyers.
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"We were feeling good coming into this series," Lucic said. "We went right after them. And you look at Game 2, when they came right after us in that third period and Timmy [Thomas] stole the game for us, and we were able to get one there in overtime. After that, I don't think we looked back, we just went after them. We've definitely put everything behind us with what happened last year, so it's a real good feeling."
After Friday's game, each and every Bruins player was thankful the ghosts of 2010 stayed around only one year.
"To be quite honest, as a player you hear all the talk about what happened last year and you have to ignore it to be able to do what we just did, winning this series," Thomas said. "But, to be honest, I'm glad that it's over, I'm glad that it's done with. Because the longer that series would have went, the more talk about last year. So I'm glad that is put behind us as a team, as an organization and the fans. I am glad the fans can put it behind them too. And I'll say it, hopefully exorcised some demons."
The last thing the Bruins wanted was to go back to Philadelphia for a Game 5 because anything could have happened.
Repeat: Anything could have happened.
"We didn't want to go back, obviously; you want to close it up as soon as possible and not give any life to those guys," said forward Shawn Thornton. "And I think from the drop of the puck [Friday], everyone did a good job of focusing on getting this win."
Now it's on to the Eastern Conference finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. This season, the Bruins have a chance to write a new chapter.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.