Unlike opener, this is no breeze
RALEIGH, N.C. - What? You were looking for another sweep?
Montreal was a setup. Les Habs are beset with problems and were missing key personnel, and taking them out in four was no big shock. It was something like 75-80 percent the Bruins were that good and 20-25 percent the Canadiens were that bad.
On paper, this one figured to be nearly as easy, based on regular-season play. For the first time in a history that began 29 years ago in Hartford, the Bruins swept, winning four games by the margin of 18-6. But that was before the Hurricanes defeated the New Jersey Devils in seven games, capping it with two dramatic goals against Martin Brodeur in the final 80 seconds. That sent them into this series full of confidence.
The opening game of this series was a bit too easy. But something a little closer to reality took place in Game 2, when the Hurricanes rode a shorthanded goal and some superb Cam Ward play in the nets to a 3-0 victory that wiped the smile off any Bruin's face needing that sort of attitudinal adjustment.
It's a series, all right, and now one key question is whether it's going to be one of those types of series. That is to say, will it be a series in which a particular goalie will keep his team alive by making saves while, yup, "standing on his head?"
As everyone knows, they happen all the time in Stanley Cup play, and everyone concerned about the fortunes of the Boston Bruins as they play the Carolina Hurricanes should know, they happened with regularity three years ago when the same goalkeeper who is minding the Carolina nets now, led the Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup then.
Cam Ward is a goalie to be respected.
Ward was all of 22, with 28 games of NHL experience, when he caught fire for these very same Hurricanes in the spring of 2006. He played in 23 of the Canes' 25 games in those Stanley Cup playoffs, winning 15 and walking off with the Conn Smythe Trophy, only the fourth rookie goaltender to do so (Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Ron Hextall).
So, The Kid has been there before.
There are all types of goalkeepers, of course, and his mates say Ward is the type who, when going well, makes it all look very, very easy. They're still babbling about the casual nature of a very important stop he made on Michael Ryder in Game 2, and one of the things they must guard against is falling into the trap of saying, "We'll just let Cam do it."
"When the goalie stops all the pucks," says veteran Rod Brind'Amour, "suddenly everything looks easy. We made a lot of mistakes [in Game 2], but Cam made all the difference. We can't rely on the goalie that much. But Cam was great."
The Bruins' goalkeeper is a bit more seasoned. Tim Thomas observed his 35th birthday on the day we paid homage to the tax man. He is coming off a career season in which he made himself a Vezina Trophy finalist by compiling a 36-11-7 record and by leading the league in both goals-against average (2.10) and save percentage (.933). No one has yet suggested that he has "stood on his head" to make any 2009 postseason saves, but he has held up well thus far in his first turn as a spotlight goalie.
He claims not to have paid any attention to the aesthetics or methodology of his current series foe.
"You know what?" Thomas inquires. "I never really pay attention to the other goalie. I'm so busy doing my own job. I'm watching situations. I'm keeping my eye on the puck. If there's a turnover at the far end, I'm trying to see what's transpiring. So no cut on Cam, I just don't have a sense of his style. I'm very busy doing my own job."
Aside from the goalkeeping, the one highly discussed issue surrounding Game 3 was the venue. The RBC Center on the campus of North Carolina State University has developed a reputation as perhaps the NHL's noisiest. There is a distinctly collegiate atmosphere, beginning with a massive tailgating session in the parking lots, and continuing with some organized cheering. Folks hereabouts like to think they can make a difference.
Thomas wasn't buying it.
"It's not as big a deal as the media makes it out to be," he insists. "I think both teams can feed off that energy, whether home or away. I don't think it's as big an issue as you guys make it out to be."
Coach Claude Julien is of a like mind. "I don't think there's any building or arena left where the crowd won't be noisy," he says. "We're down to the final eight teams. Every crowd is going to be supportive. We've dealt with it. We've just come from Montreal."
"The fans can cheer," shrugs Thomas. "It's not like they're throwing knives."
Well, all right then. May the grittier team win.