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With chance to finish off Red Wings, Bruins hope they’ve learned from previous closeout struggles

04.25.14 at 5:45 pm ET
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The Bruins hope to knock down the Red Wings for good in Saturday's Game 5. (AP)

The Bruins hope to knock down the Red Wings for good in Saturday’s Game 5. (AP)

Claude Julien knew it was coming. He started laughing before the reporter even finished the question. Chances are he’€™ll hear it asked every time the Bruins are in this situation.

The situation is having a chance to close out a playoff series. The question is about the Bruins’€™ rather unimpressive history in pre-Game 7 closeouts under Julien.

It all starts with that blown 3-0 series lead against the Flyers back in 2010. The B’€™s won the Stanley Cup the next year, but along the way they let the Canadiens and Lightning take them to seven games after losing a pair of Game 6 closeouts.

Last year they held a 3-1 series lead over the Maple Leafs, but wound up needing that miracle Game 7 comeback to finally finish off Toronto. It took them two tries to close out the Rangers as well. Of course, there have been series in which the Bruins have closed the door on the first try, too, as they swept Montreal in 2009, Philadelphia in 2011 and Pittsburgh in 2013.

All in all, the Bruins are 5-9 in non-Game 7 closeouts during the Julien era, which is why he still has to answer the question any time this situation arises.

“We can learn a lot from last year actually,” Julien said Friday. “You can look at it whichever way you want. It doesn’€™t mean just because it’€™s happened before, it has to be the same thing. There are different situations all the time.

“Right now, we have yet to lose respect for that team we’€™re playing against. They added some good players to their lineup last game, and a guy like [Henrik] Zetterberg can only get better in his second game than he was in his first. So there’€™s a respect factor there that we need to be really good tomorrow if we want to end the series. If not, then we’€™re going back to their building, and that’€™s something we’€™d prefer not to do.”

The Bruins’€™ first objective in Saturday’€™s Game 5 is to get off to a much better start than the one they had in Game 4. The Red Wings thoroughly dominated the first 25-30 minutes of the game, outshooting the B’€™s 15-5 in the first period and opening up a 2-0 lead by the five-minute mark of the second. The Bruins wound up coming back and winning in overtime, but they know they don’€™t want to be playing from behind again.

They’€™d much rather start the way they started in Games 2 and 3, when they were the ones dominating the first period and building a multi-goal lead. With the Bruins’€™ defense and goaltending, falling behind by two or three goals Saturday could be a death knell for Detroit.

“I thought our first period [in Game 4] — it wasn’€™t that it was bad, but we didn’€™t quite play our game,” Julien said. “They were able to get some opportunities and some speed through the neutral zone. We didn’€™t have the numbers coming back. It wasn’€™t so much the stretch guy; it was more the second wave that was coming through. Once we got that taken care of, our game kind of found its rhythm again and we started playing the way we wanted to.”

The X’€™s and O’€™s of it make sense, but perhaps an equally important part is the attitude. With their season on the line, the Red Wings will obviously come out desperate. The Bruins need to match that and avoid the natural tendency to fall back on the fact that they actually have three chances to close this out, not just one.

In game situations, this is called “score effects.” When a team leads by multiple goals, it is far more likely to get outshot by its opponent. This makes sense: one team is desperate and willing to throw anything on net in an effort to cut into the lead, while the other is content to play conservative and just avoid making mistakes. The same thing can happen when one team leads a series by multiple games.

Tuukka Rask admitted that the Bruins have probably allowed that to happen before, but he hopes they’€™ve learned their lesson.

“You get these opportunities, and sometimes it’€™s more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge,” Rask said. “You start thinking about the end score of the game before the game even starts, and you kind of hope you get to do that. But I think we’€™ve learned over the years that it doesn’€™t help us. We just have to focus on our job and the game itself, and the rest will take care of itself. I hope we’€™ve learned from past years and we’€™re ready for [Saturday].”

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