The Boston Bruins are on the precipice of an epic collapse in their seven game series with the Philadelphia Flyers after taking a 3-0 lead. Losers of the last three contests, the Bruins now face a hungry Philly club with all the momentum.
But, before we punch the Flyers' trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, here are three reasons why the Bruins are going to take the deciding game and avoid the ignominious distinction of joining the '42 Red Wings and '75 Penguins as the only two NHL teams in history to blow 3-0 leads.
1. The Tuukka Rask vs. Michael Leighton factor. Is there much doubt as to who is the better goaltender? Rask looked shaky in Games 4 and 5 and early in Game 6, while Leighton has been lights-out since coming in cold for Brian Boucher in Game 5. But, Leighton has gotten a lot of help, while Rask hasn't. After Danny Briere put the Flyers up 2-0 in the last game on what was a questionable goal for Rask to give up after the puck bounced off of Johnny Boychuk and right to Briere, who hit Rask in the shoulder with it as the shot kept rising and fluttered high into the net, Rask has tightened things up. His penalty shot glove save on former Finnish elite league teammate Ville Leino (Ilves Tampere) was a thing of beauty and restored some of Rask's swagger. I've said before that his poise is remarkable. I was confident that he would bounce back in Game 5 after the crushing loss in OT because he showed none of the dejection and despondency that so many goalies who come up on the losing end of those kinds of games have, that "deer in the headlights" look that I have seen from Boston goalies of the past.
Tonight, I think Rask will come into the game with his "Cool Hand Tuuk" alter ego going and will play the kind of game that will give his team a chance to win and move on. Leighton, on the other hand, has benefited from two tremendous defensive performances. Nobody's talking about him because everyone assumes he's just going to skate into TD Garden and lock it down. Not so fast. My prediction: Leighton turns into a pumpkin tonight. The lack of game action since March and the pressure and hostile crowd gets to him as do the Bruins, who will outscore the Flyers in a close one.
2. Offense from the Defense. The B's defensemen will do their part to generate scoring tonight. It hasn't been for a lack of trying that the pucks haven't gone in for them, but they'll break through against Philly and frustrate the Flyers, who have done a great job of clogging up the shooting lanes and blocking point drives in the last three games. Chris Pronger and Matt Carle have been the stories in their team's comeback, but tonight, Zdeno Chara, Dennis Wideman and Johnny Boychuk, and possibly even Matt Hunwick will get on the scoresheet in some form to take the pressure off of Boston's struggling forward corps who have been decimated with season-ending injuries to Marco Sturm and David Krejci.
3. Patrice Bergeron. Tonight is the night that Boston's fan favorite and de facto captain can make the kind of statement that Joe Thornton never did for the Bruins. More than two years ago, it was in a game against the Flyers at home that a brutal hit from behind by former Philly defender Randy Jones cost Bergeron nearly the entire 07-08 season, and a lot of his effectiveness in 08-09. With Bergeron leading the team in points this postseason with 11 (in 12 games), he has a chance to put the team on his back and carry them to victory. Even though this is a different Flyers club than the one that knocked him out for so long, you know he wants to beat these guys more than anything else. He'll be at home tonight, and gets another shot at redemption after being a part of the Bruins squad who laid an egg at home in Game 7 six years ago at the hands of the hated Canadiens. You can bet that Bergy hasn't forgotten the sting of that loss and series collapse and tonight, he'll be a major factor in making amends. This is to say nothing of the disaster that was Game 7 at home against Carolina exactly one year ago, with the reviled Scott Walker (he of the suckerpunch on B's defenseman Aaron Ward) of all people, getting the winner in OT. He's personally experienced two crushing Game 7 losses at home...you can bet he's up to reverse that trend tonight.
With veteran Mark Recchi on one side, and the highly disappointing but certainly capable Blake Wheeler on the left, Bergeron has the tools at his disposal to rise above and take a page from good friend (and off-season workout partner) Simon Gagne's book in Game 4.
It's not going to be easy; nothing in this world is. But, the Flyers have had their moment and probably believe in their heart of hearts that this thing is over.
Time for Boston to put the proverbial stake through their hearts and take that next step in this rollercoaster postseason.