BOSTON (CBS) – Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien says his team is playing their best hockey of the year after taking each of the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals in Pittsburgh, but is far from saying the series against the Penguins is over.
“Any time you can come back from a road trip like that, having won both games, it’s encouraging. Our team is really playing good hockey right now, without a doubt the best we’ve had all year. That has to continue to beat these guys,” Julien said Tuesday shortly after the team landed at Hanscom Air Base in Bedford. “Like I said last night, we were in that same position as Pittsburgh two years ago and we worked back into it. We understand the situation here and we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves here. These next two games are crucial for us, just as much as it is for them.”
The Bruins have plenty of experience coming back from series deficits, and plenty of experience in letting a series slip away as well. In their Stanley Cup run of 2011, Boston came back to win in seven games after dropping their first two games — at home — to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round. On the flip side, they let a 3-1 series lead slip away against the Toronto Maple Leafs just last month, and needed a feverish comeback in the final minutes of Game 7 and overtime to advance.
Then, of course, there is the collapse against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010.
But good or bad, the Bruins have learned from these experiences.
“You learn a lot from different situations you’re in,” said veteran defenseman Andrew Ference. “A lot of us have it together, and one of the important things about this time of the year is to have an even keel. It’s not the time of the year to play purely off emotions, and I think we have a good balance of that. You only get that from experiencing good and bad.”
Over the first two games, the Bruins have done a great job neutralizing the Penguins’ potent offense. Those layers are what is keeping the speedy Pens attackers from getting clean breaks to Tuukka Rask, and in the few instances they have gotten to him, the netminder has let just one puck beat him.
“He’s been unbelievable so far in this series. He’s been good throughout the playoffs but he seems to have brought his game up a notch here as well,” Julien said of Rask, who has stopped 55 of the 56 shots to come his way.
Now the Bruins return to the friendly confines of the TD Garden for Game 3 on Wednesday night, ready for a rowdy crowd thirsty for a 3-0 series lead. But just because the next two games are home doesn’t mean this series is over – not by a long shot.
“They’re a pretty potent team and things can change pretty quickly in this game,” said Julien. “It’s a very humbling game and that’s where we have to be using our experience to our advantage, knowing it could change quickly. I don’t think there’s any comfort level in our team right now more than it’s a continued determination.”
“It’s the same stakes right now as it was before,” said Ference. “It’s a seven game series for a reason. Everyone has that pretty set in place on our team that it’s about what we do in the next game and not patting ourselves on the back for what’s already happened.”
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