Hurricanes have Bruins on thin ice
RALEIGH, N.C. - Too fast. Too skilled. Too tough.
After dropping a 4-1 decision last night to the seemingly unstoppable Hurricanes before 18,878 at the RBC Center, the Bruins must win three straight games if they want to keep 2008-09, a season that included so much success, alive beyond next week. With as mighty as the Hurricanes have looked in three straight wins of their own, it seems unlikely the Bruins have any bullets remaining that can pierce Carolina's armor.
"Obviously, we're in a deep hole," said Zdeno Chara. "We all realize that. But you have to win four games to get to the next round. It's 3-1 and it's not over yet."
That said, the Hurricanes made the Bruins look like bantams for most of last night, with little resistance from the Black and Gold. The once-proud Bruins, now looking like paper tigers, have buckled at the exact point where winners strut their best stuff.
"I think our team has probably picked the worst time of the year to play their worst hockey," said coach Claude Julien. "When you look at the whole team right now, there isn't anybody that's played up to their potential. Obviously, out of synch. Our passes are not crisp. We're not in synch. You can see the frustration on the players right now. It's certainly getting worse.
"This is something that has to be resolved before the next game. We don't have much time to do that. You've come too far in the season to all of a sudden say, 'You know what? It's not working.' We've got to find solutions. That's got to come from coaches. And it's got to come from players."
Last night was a system-wide failure for a team that, even if it wasn't supposed to beat Carolina, was at least expected to show some fight. But in a stunning, uncharacteristic display of sloppy hockey, the Bruins let the Hurricanes skate around, through, and over them for all of the first period and most of the third.
Soon, the Hurricanes might be skating over their graves.
"Right now, our backs are up against the wall," said Marc Savard, who scored Boston's goal, a power-play strike (their first of the series) at 2:37 of the second period. "It's time to face that challenge. Or else it's going to be another long summer."
The Bruins survived a disaster of a first period and closed the opening 20 minutes down by only a goal. For spurts in the second, they had restarted their puck-possession game - chip pucks out, dump them in the corners, chase them down, start the cycle - and were ready for a competitive third period.
But like they have for nearly the entire series, the Hurricanes proved that they wanted it more.
Early in the third, the puck was inches away from sliding across Boston's blue line and out of the zone. Eric Staal had other thoughts. The top-line center, who has been one of Carolina's best players during the series, beat Milan Lucic to the puck and kept it in the zone. Staal carried the puck toward the net, where he was met by Chara, the man he's been matched against for the first four games.
The Boston captain was promptly called for hooking when he tried to slow Staal. A borderline call? Maybe. But Staal put Chara in the position to take the penalty by winning the initial race, then driving hard to the net.
With Chara, the player the Bruins could least afford to lose, in the penalty box, Carolina defenseman Anton Babchuk hammered a one-timer from the left point. Tim Thomas nearly got a glove on it. But at the moment when Thomas might have squeezed his mitt around the puck, Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour arrived.
"I had it in my glove, kind of," said Thomas (27 saves). "But you can't cover it when a guy's right on top of you like that. He didn't whack my hand with his stick or anything that I can recall. He was just on top of me and it just got bumped loose."
As the puck dropped to the ice, a Carolina forward beat the Bruins to the rebound and batted it into the net at 2:52 of the third for the winning goal. It was Jussi Jokinen, the seize-the-moment center who had beaten Thomas in overtime in Game 3.
"That's what you need to do," said Thomas of Carolina's net-front presence and willingness to battle for loose pucks. "That's how [Lucic] scored the last game. He was out front in that spot. It's one of the things you've got to do to be effective."
The Bruins never fought back after that. Sergei Samsonov wheeled around Dennis Wideman and popped a quick-strike backhander over Thomas at 14:31. Seventy seconds later, Staal blew past Aaron Ward and netted his ninth postseason goal.
The RBC Center was not kind to the Bruins the last two games. But now, the Bruins' only priority is to return to the enemy rink.
"We've got to battle as hard as we can at home," Savard said. "Put this behind us and try to make a trip back up here."