By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
In an all-too-familiar descent from promising to frustrating to disappointing, the Boston Bruins have once again become playoff procrastinators. With a fresh final exam on the horizon after coughing up another 3-1 playoff lead against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the B's now have to cram their best work into one last session.
Game 7 takes place on Wednesday at TD Garden, after the Bruins found themselves on the losing end of yet another game in which they vastly out-possessed the Leafs in Game 6 on Monday night. They've held a ridiculous 162-82 advantage in shot attempts in the past two contests, but far too many of those attempts were either blocked or missed, or simply weren't finished like they were in the first two games of the series.
But, the further away that the Bruins get from their magical 2011 run to the Stanley Cup, the more it looks like an outlier in their ability to finish teams off. Since the start of the 2008 playoffs, the Bruins are 4-5 in Game 7s - including 3-4 on their home ice - and three of those four wins famously came in 2011.
Since hoisting the Cup in Vancouver, the Bruins are 1-2 in Game 7s - all at home - and are a miracle comeback against these same Leafs away from being 0-3. Wednesday marks the Bruins' first Game 7 since their 2014 conference semifinal loss to the Canadiens, and that anticlimax of a series feels painfully similar to what is unfolding for the Bruins offense for much of the past four games ... a wealth of opportunities, and a woefully nonexistent ability to capitalize on them.
There will be loud, pervasive questions for Bruce Cassidy to find the right answer in the Bruins' final test as far as his lineup is concerned. It's clear that Tommy Wingels in a top-six role wasn't it. Perhaps Ryan Donato gets another shot. They do need finishers, after all.
But the onus on the Bruins in Game 7, ultimately, comes down to the performance of their core stars. The B's top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak have combined for a big fat zero points in the Bruins' three losses in the series, culminating with a Game 6 peppered with sloppy puck management and poor decision-making. It goes without saying that they need to be the line that dominated the score sheet in first two games of the series if the Bruins want to avoid another frustrating collapse.
If their core stars can't come through in Game 7, it wouldn't be the first time. In that Game 7 letdown against the Habs in 2014, Bergeron, Marchand, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, and Torey Krug combined for two assists as the Bruins potted one power play goal on 30 shots.
Tuukka Rask, meanwhile, allowed three goals on 18 shots in that game. And in his other two Game 7s for the Bruins, he's allowed eight on 55. For those scoring at home, that's a grand total of 11 goals on 73 shots - a rotten .849 save percentage. Those games were characterized by team-wide breakdowns, but Rask certainly was on the list of no-shows.
So while the goalie followed up a weak Game 5 with a strong Game 6 that kept the Bruins alive in an ugly third period, he should still find himself under just as large of a microscope as the other core veterans on Wednesday.
Unless you expect the Bruins to recapture the magic of the final half-period of that 2013 classic against the Leafs, or hop in a time machine all the way back to Vancouver in 2011, that's your prerogative. But a performance like that would be an anomaly compared to what's gone down in the rest of the Bruins' do-or-die games in the past 10 years.
The Bruins have nonetheless controlled the action and laid siege to Frederik Andersen for long stretches in Games 3, 5, and 6. After Game 3, it was a matter of finishing. After Game 5, it was a matter of improved goaltending and still finishing.
How many periods can you repeat "They just need to finish" before it becomes apparent that this team, especially this core, just hasn't played well enough when it's had a chance to finish an entire series?
Wednesday's Game 7 could certainly turn out differently. Maybe Andersen's maple-flavored fairy dust dwindles down to the final specks. Maybe Marchand or Pastrnak or Bergeron finally put the rubber disc over the little red line, and the proverbial floodgates burst open. Maybe the Bruins get all their homework in over the next day-and-a-half, and turn in the A-level performance they'll likely need to earn a passing grade.
But based on how things have gone in the latter half of this series - and how things have gone in recent Game 7s for this team - it's incredibly difficult to feel confident that they can avoid another failure.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].
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Correction: This article previously stated the Bruins were 3-5 in Game 7s since 2008. They are actually 4-5.