TORONTO -- The inconsistencies the Boston Bruins have dealt with all season continued in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series Sunday night at Air Canada Centre.
If the Bruins play like they did in Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs again on Monday in Game 7 in Boston, their season will be over and there will be plenty of questions as to why, what happened to this team and who's to blame.
But the Bruins have a chance to correct all of it with a win on home ice; it's only a matter of which team is going to show up. Will it be the team that dominated the first two months of the season, or the team that struggled in the second half of this lockout-shortened schedule?
No excuses. In the Stanley Cup playoffs, you can't blame the schedule or the travel. The Bruins are a team that should win in the postseason. They did two years ago when they won the Stanley Cup, and the core of the team hasn't changed. Boston just isn't getting the same consistent contributions, and if that doesn't change, the Bruins' season could end Monday night.
"We've played some great games this year and we've played some awful games," Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said. "The past two games have not been in the top category, so [Monday] is our only chance to continue the season with a good game, or finish it off with a bad one. I hope we're going to be determined and play a good game."
While Bruins coach Claude Julien complained about the team's lack of puck management in Game 6, his biggest complaint to his players could be considered quite maddening.
"As I said to our players after the game, we've been a Jekyll and Hyde team all year, and that's what you're seeing right now," Julien said. "It's important to us to bring the good Bruins team to the table for Game 7."
The Bruins had a 3-1 series lead before losing Game 5 in Boston, 2-1. Then, facing a confident Maple Leafs team, Boston lacked the desire to finish, recording another loss in Game 6.
"It's really disappointing," Rask said. "But with a game like that you can't expect to win. The Leafs have played really good throughout the series and they get rewarded."
So the Bruins find themselves faced with another Game 7 scenario. Under Julien, the team is 3-4 in Game 7's. Other than the team's 2011 Cup run, during which the Bruins won Game 7 in the conference quarterfinals against the Montreal Canadiens, Game 7 in the conference finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and finally Game 7 to win the Cup against the Canucks in Vancouver, the Bruins have lost their four other Game 7's since 2008.
Toronto has not been in the playoffs since 2004, so if Boston believes its experience will be a factor, the Bruins have misjudged the Maple Leafs.
"We've always said they're a very good team. We never said it was going to be an easy series," Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron said. "Here we are now and it's all about one game. Whatever happened in the first six games doesn't really matter. It's about us showing up tomorrow."
The Bruins desperately need Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand to show up in Game 7. They haven't produced many shots (Marchand has two in the past two games) and the quality scoring chances have not been there. While Julien would not comment on any one player or line, Bergeron is trying to motivate his linemates.
"It's about keep playing your way and doing the little things and keep things simple," the always upbeat Bergeron said. "Tonight they did that and we had some good looks, but bottom line, at the end of the day we've got to help our team and put the puck in the net."
Boston has produced only two goals in the past two games and Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer is a big reason why. Similar to what happened a season ago when Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby was able to hold off the Bruins' attack and help his team to a stunning first-round win, Reimer's confidence is growing.
"We didn't manage the puck well in our zone, but also we didn't get to the front of the net as much as we should have," Bergeron said. "[Reimer] has made some good saves, yes, but we've got to be there to make it harder on him.
"Being frustrated right now is not going to help. It's about being determined to find ways to put it in, and it's all about tomorrow now."
The Bruins had too many turnovers in their own zone and couldn't get the puck out enough on the breakout, which kept Boston from getting the necessary flow up the ice in order to create offense.
It's no secret what the Bruins need to do in Game 7. Boston needs more shots, more traffic, more players in front to cause havoc in front of Reimer and grab the rebounds. Reimer allowed enough rebounds that the Bruins should have jumped all over, but time and again no one was there to react.
"It's for our season and it's the biggest game of the year," defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "We have to focus on managing the puck better and play to our strengths. We can't worry about what kind of game it is. It's tough, I know, but we have to play in the moment, like we always say."
After the game, the Bruins announced the team would stay in Toronto overnight and not travel back to Boston until Monday because of an issue with the team's charter.
Staying in Toronto for the night could be a good thing for the Bruins. The players should take advantage of a better night's sleep, and they probably won't have to be at the rink in the morning to deal with any media availability. The plane malfunction could help the Bruins focus a little more on the task at hand, which is winning Game 7.
Once the puck drops Monday night at the Garden, Rask and the Bruins expect one thing. "I expect us to play a great game," Rask said. "Not frustrated, but determined and go out there and play a great game."
If they don't and the inconsistencies continue, the season could end prematurely. If the Bruins win, they will face either the Washington Capitals or the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
But first things first.
"We are the team that should prevail in everybody's eyes, but they've played well and we haven't played well enough," Julien said. "It's as simple as that and that's why it's a 3-3 series right now."