Shortcut to playoffs for Bruins
They clinch a berth by scoring three goals during one penalty
This is hockey, not baseball, so any spraying of champagne or smoking of cigars upon clinching a playoff spot would be considered most uncouth. But considering how checkered the 2009-10 season has been for the Bruins, there might have been a few celebratory sips on the charter to Washington after yesterday’s 4-2 playoff-clinching win over Carolina at TD Garden.
The Bruins, pegged to be Stanley Cup chasers upon the eve of the season, plunged as far as 12th in the Eastern Conference during their most rotten swoon. Injuries to Marc Savard, Milan Lucic, and seemingly every defenseman with a spoked-B on his chest prevented the Bruins from finding any roster regularity. They played some of their worst hockey on home ice. After career efforts last season, significant contributors such as Tim Thomas, Michael Ryder, and Dennis Wideman couldn’t find their 2008-09 magic.
So, fittingly, after a three-goal outbreak of never-been-done-before shorthanded offense led to a 3-0 Bruins lead yesterday, the home club found itself staring down a tie game as a third-period puck rolled without hindrance toward its own vacant net.
“That was crazy,’’ said Blake Wheeler. “I didn’t even know there was a delayed call. I tried to pass it to Rydes, and all of a sudden I see it going into an empty net. I just started shaking my head. I was like, ‘Here we go. This is how the season’s gone.’ ’’
Referee Chris Lee had raised his arm to call a high-sticking penalty on Carolina’s Jerome Samson, so goalie Tuukka Rask sprinted off. As Rask approached the bench, Wheeler curled out of the left corner in the offensive zone and passed to Ryder in the slot. Ryder couldn’t settle the pass. Johnny Boychuk, the right-side defenseman, had gone off for a change. The puck skittered out of the zone, banked off the wall in the neutral zone, and angled toward the Boston net.
But Patrice Bergeron, who had rolled over the boards to replace Rask as the sixth skater, did what he’s done all season: bail out his teammates. Bergeron kicked into high gear, chased down the puck, and backhanded it off the goal line, keeping the Bruins’ 3-2 advantage intact.
“There’s those ‘Not Top 10 Plays’ on ESPN,’’ Bergeron said. “I didn’t want to be on that.’’
ESPN already had its highlight from yesterday’s game: three shorthanded Bruins goals in 64 seconds, smashing the previous NHL record (Winnipeg netted three shorties against Vancouver in 4:44 on April 7, 1995, and had four overall in the game).
The madness started with 18 seconds remaining in the first period, when Matt Hunwick was sent off for hooking, giving the Hurricanes a chance to snap a 0-0 deadlock despite Black-and-Gold dominance for most of the period.
“I’m a little nervous,’’ Hunwick recalled of his feeling in the box. “I thought we outplayed them in the first period. We had a lot of momentum. To take a penalty with  seconds remaining in the first, then give them an opportunity to go out in the second for a power play with fresh ice and a chance to take the lead, obviously makes you a little nervous.’’
Soon after the second began, Daniel Paille blew past Bryan Rodney to chase down a puck in the right corner. Paille fished the puck out, slashed across the crease, and beat Cam Ward 32 seconds into the period to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
After the following faceoff, Ward (38 saves) played the puck behind his net and rimmed it up the left-side wall. But Brett Carson, spotting David Krejci steaming down the boards, alligator-armed the puck and coughed it up. Krejci settled the puck and sent it to the slot for Wheeler, who buzzed a one-timer past Ward at 1:21 to snap a 12-game goal-scoring slump.
The Bruins weren’t done.
Steve Begin won the next faceoff, then drifted up ice as the puck went back to Wideman in the defensive zone. Wideman, seeing Begin open on the right wing, flipped a long-distance pass to his teammate. Begin snapped an off-wing wrist shot between the legs of the shell-shocked Ward at 1:36 to give the Bruins a 3-0 lead.
“Nobody’s ever seen three goals that quick,’’ Wheeler said. “To have them bam, bam, bam on the penalty kill is something that everyone knew was special. It’s not surprising that it’s an NHL record.’’
The Bruins would need every one of those shorties on top of Bergeron’s goal-saving sweep. At 14:30 of the second, Erik Cole scooted around the net, faced zero resistance in the slot, and flipped a backhander that slid wide of Rask’s left pad to give the Hurricanes their first goal. Less than three minutes later, Patrick Dwyer took a pass from Samson and catapulted a slot shot that beat Rask at 17:06.
At that point, the Bruins were thinking about sending Hunwick back to the box.
“We were pretty mad coming in after the second period after giving them two goals,’’ coach Claude Julien said. “So there was a sense of urgency. As you probably witnessed, we seem to be more comfortable playing tight games than games with a little bit of breathing room.’’
At 19:00 of the third, with Ward on the bench, the Bruins finally took a breath when Lucic canned an empty-net goal and propelled his club into the postseason.
“We knew it was going to be a dogfight until the end,’’ Wheeler said. “We put ourselves in that position earlier on. So we had the mentality that it’s been a playoff game every time for the last few weeks. I think we’ve really thrived under that mentality and we’ve been playing some pretty good hockey lately.
“We’ve just got to carry it into the playoffs. It feels good to be a team that’s kind of up and coming going into the playoffs rather than stumbling a bit.’’