Bruins Hope Oilers Can't Get Any Better : Stanley Cup finals: Boston drags itself home, down three games to one and feeling the heat.


The defiance seems gone, the bravado dispelled, the confidence shattered.

Twenty-four hours after losing to the Edmonton Oilers, 5-1, to fall behind, 3-1, in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup finals, the Boston Bruins still seemed shaken by the experience.

These were the Oilers they had heard about, the fast-skating, freewheeling offensive machine, roadrunners on skates.

All the Bruins saw much of Tuesday evening was a blur and the back of Edmonton's helmets. Boston seemed unable to handle a skating demonstration that rivaled the Ice Capades.

"Speed kills," said Bruin goalie Andy Moog.

It has certainly killed him in this series. He has given up a dozen goals in four games, even though he was pulled midway through Game 2.

It's not over yet. The Bruins will try to put some speed bumps on the Boston Garden ice for Game 5 tonight.

But they know the odds they are bucking in trying to stave off elimination.

They know only one team in NHL history has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the finals, and that was 38 years ago when the Toronto Maple Leafs did it against the Detroit Red Wings.

The Bruins also know that the home-ice advantage has proved to be no advantage in this series, the visitors winning three of four games.

So you don't hear a lot of the standard backs-against-the-wall, long-way-from-over cliches coming from the Boston side.

Certainly not from Coach Mike Milbury.

He was philosophical after his team lost the opener in triple overtime, arguing correctly that it could have easily gone the other way. He was defiant after losing Game 2, storming out of a press conference after exchanging four-letter words with several reporters.

Milbury was elated after winning a 2-1 defensive struggle in Game 3.

But he seemed almost resigned to eventual defeat after Game 4.

"You can start thinking these guys are better than we are," he said. "Obviously, we can be eliminated. In my mind, we deserve a better fate.

"We could have won any of the first three games. We should be even. But last night (Tuesday), we were rotten. It was the worst game we've played in 20 playoff games. Edmonton, all of sudden, looked like they were invincible."

Oiler Coach John Muckler said it "was the best game we've had. You always expect to get better, but that's the top of our game. I don't think we can play any better than that."

Milbury knows exactly where the problem is.

"We just haven't been able to score," he said. "It comes down to that.

"We've never been an offensive powerhouse, but we've always found a guy to score the goal that makes the difference. And right now, we're not finding that guy."

Not to hard to figure where to look.

Just as the scene has shifted in the finals, from Edmonton back to Boston, so has the finger-pointing shifted.

Everybody wanted to know what was wrong with the Oilers' MVP candidate, Mark Messier, after he collected only one assist and no goals through the first three games of the finals.

But Messier and his linemates, Glenn Anderson and Craig Simpson, answered with 11 points among them Tuesday.

Now, the third-degree light turns on Boston's first line.

During the regular season, Cam Neely had 55 goals and 37 assists. Craig Janney, who made a specialty of getting him the puck, had 24 goals and 38 assists.

In the earlier playoff rounds, Neely had a dozen goals and an equal number of assists. Janney had three goals and 19 assists.

Thus far in the finals, Neely has four assists, but no goals. Janney has yet to score a point.

What's the problem? An untimely slump? Great Oiler defense? Brilliant goaltending by Bill Ranford?

Questions, questions. Either Milbury comes up with some answers by tonight or he'll have to listen to them all summer.

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