After Game 2 of the Boston Bruins' series against the Carolina Hurricanes, we cautioned against the mindset that a No. 1 seed was losing rather than believing that a No. 6 seed was winning:
Underestimate the Hurricanes at your own peril. They're more than just a hot goalie and your own team's foibles.
Besides giving Carolina a 2-1 series advantage against the B's, Game 3 may have finally cemented the Hurricanes as an honest-to-goodness-contender rather than some lucky underdog nipping at the heels of a better foe. Even if the venerable Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe still sounds unconvinced:
The top sports headlines of the day
They won precious few of the much-discussed "one-on-one battles" hockey people love to reference, and they even had the distinction of coming up with the evening's single dumbest play, an absolutely foolish and needless attack on Carolina goalie Cam Ward(notes) by the normally level-headed Marc Savard(notes).
There was no need for Savard to ram Ward in the back in the first place. But to do it, and thus negate a penalty (a pretty nasty Niclas Wallin(notes) hit on Stephane Yelle(notes)), was unforgivable. Savard does not ordinarily do idiotic things like this. Was losing his head like this symptomatic of some larger issue?
I mean, who knows? Are the Bruins feeling the burden of being the highest team left standing? Is some element of self-doubt creeping into their heads? They certainly have not been their regular-season or Montreal series selves these past two games.
Forgetting for a moment that a national columnist feels the need to distance himself from the game by referencing "hockey people," let's focus on delusion.
Stanley Cup of Chowder, a great Bruins blog, posted a series of reasons why the Bruins can't lose this series -- some humorous, some serious. The general impression, though, is the notion that Boston is in a different class than Carolina is as a team.
In a general sense, this is probably true. But not in the last two months. Carolina was 13-3 during a ferocious drive to the postseason in March and April; Boston was 11-7 in a smooth ride to the conference title, not exactly playing the sort of hockey that allowed them that luxury.
In this playoff series, it can be argued that the Hurricanes have won six of the last seven periods from the Bruins. After barely losing to Boston in the faceoff race during Game 2's win, they dominated the Bruins in Game 3. Patrice Bergeron(notes) was 3-for-15 in the faceoff circle during Game 3; we're talking about a player that rolled to a 54.5 percent clip in the regular season.
No, what's happening right now isn't the Bruins' failure: It's the Hurricanes successfully playing their brand of intense forechecking and smart, responsible defense. And as we've mentioned before, out blue-collaring the Bruins. Which shouldn't happen with a team that has Milan Lucic(notes), Mark Recchi(notes) and Chuck Kobasew(notes).
One of the most significant reasons why the Hurricanes have limited Boston's chances and given Cam Ward good looks at pucks has been the backpressure applied by their forwards. "With players that skate very well and really handle the puck, if you give them ice to play on, they will make those plays," said Paul Maurice. "The only way to do that is allow your defense to stay up and have as tight a gap as you can. The only way to do that is to push them from behind."
Exactly. The Hurricanes know that they don't exactly have Zdeno Chara(notes) on their backline, so they play a team concept of defense in front of Ward. That's been one of the critical differences under Maurice, and it continues to pay off because the Hurricanes are so damn fast in transition. When they don't play with defensive responsibility, you get Game 1; when they perfect it, you get Game 3.
Back to the Bruins' Blog:
All but missing in this series for the Bruins: emotion. "When we played teams like Montreal or the Rangers, we were more intense and more emotionally involved," Zdeno Chara said. "We have to bring that same level."
Again, excellent point: It's easy to dominate the Montreal Canadiens when you despise them with every ounce of your being. But like the New Jersey Devils in Round 1, finding that extra bit of angst against a Carolina team that doesn't play in your division is a challenge. Same goes for either Washington or Pittsburgh if the Hurricanes advance to the finals.
That said, Bruins Coach Claude Julien appears more concerned with execution than intensity:
Julien repeated his stance from Thursday, that the Bruins got off to a good start in Wednesday's Game 3 but just didn't finish well.
"We have to finish our plays," said Julien. "We have to continue with our plays and not have those breakdowns that we had. ... As far as saying, well, they wanted it better than we did, I don't think that inside the players feel like they're not giving the effort. But when you don't work properly, it certainly looks that way. If we start making better plays, our efforts won't be questioned as much. There's no doubt you've got to play more determined to win one-on-one battles."
Just like how the city of Pittsburgh is finalizing a statue in Evgeni Malkin's(notes) honor after Game 3, the Bruins could wipe away much of this doubt and frustration with a victory this evening. But if the Hurricanes have solved their feast-or-famine inconsistency from Round 1, that's not going to be easy.