By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Coming off a decisive 4-0 victory in Game 6 against the Blue Jackets, there’s plenty of reason to feel very good about the Boston Bruins.
Of course, at this time of year, all four NHL teams that reach the conference finals have reason to feel pretty good. It takes a lot to get just this far, so all four franchises and fan bases will be buzzing with anticipation and filled with expectations for what lies ahead.
So, to try to strike a balance between that positive vibe that folks are feeling in Boston and in Raleigh, here’s a look at some reasons to feel great about the Bruins in their upcoming series against the Carolina Hurricanes, and here’s also a look at some reasons to feel a bit worried for the Bruins.
It’s always good to try to get the complete picture.
REASON TO FEEL GOOD: OVERCOMING ADVERSITY/TOUGH CALLS/BAD BREAKS
You have to give the Bruins a ton of credit for the fact that seemingly nothing thrown in their way could stop them in their six-game series victory over the Blue Jackets. That’s not to say that the calls that didn’t go in their favor were particularly bad or incorrect, but more a recognition that the Bruins managed to wipe out a 2-1 series deficit despite a lengthy stretch of not benefiting from a call or decision that could have gone either way.
From a Columbus goal being scored after the puck had hit the protective netting and the play should have been blown dead, to the awarding of a Columbus goal based more on logic than visual evidence on replay, to the elimination of a key first goal in Game 6 due to goaltender interference, the Bruins didn’t create any excuses and instead found ways to overcome whatever issue faced them.
Outside of that, there was the more standard level of adversity. They won on the road while trailing 2-1 in the series, they kept their composure after surrendering a late two-goal lead to win Game 5 in regulation, and they did what was necessary in a close-out situation on the road in Game 6. And that was after they won while facing elimination in Toronto in Game 6, and then of course winning a Game 7 to end the Maple Leafs’ season once again.
Call it whatever cliche you’d like — battle-tested, resilient, etc. — but the simple fact is that the 2019 Bruins have proven to be good at winning games. It’s a useful skill at this time of year.
REASON TO WORRY: CAROLINA HAS REALLY GOT SOMETHING SPECIAL GOING
There are certain elements of sports that can be quantified, enumerated and explained. There are certain elements that cannot.
And certainly, this whole “bunch of jerks” thing that’s going on? It is a WAVE, man.
For the initiated: The Hurricanes had the audacity to employ some unique celebrations after winning on home ice this year. The players seemed to enjoy doing it. The fans seemed to enjoy watching it. The whole internet at least took a peek to see what was going on. It was a relatively harmless, fun situation going on in Raleigh.
But Don Cherry? I’ll tell you what — Don Cherry didn’t like it. He really didn’t like it. Don Cherry said the Hurricanes were acting like “a bunch of jerks,” and whoa doggy, has that now become a rallying cry for the franchise and the fan base. They’ve since beaten the defending champs in a Game 7 on the road, and swept away an Islanders team that was coming off a sweep of its own.
The Canes are running hot.
Now, feel-good, fun stories like this don’t always guarantee success. The mighty underdog Blue Jackets did sweep away a historically great Lightning team, but that didn’t help them in the second round. Thinking locally, the 2003 “Cowboy Up” Red Sox were a hoot … until Aaron Boone punched every single Bostonian in the gut. Sometimes these stories fizzle out without the storybook ending.
But there is no doubt that no matter how the first two games go in Boston, the Bruins will be diving into a rowdy, raucous environment when they head to Raleigh for Game 3.
REASON TO FEEL GOOD: SECONDARY SCORING
Arguably the biggest development of the playoffs has been the goals the Bruins have gotten from the bottom two lines. To put it frankly, the Bruins would have been eliminated long ago if the likes of Charlie Coyle, Marcus Johansson, Joakim Nordstrom, Noel Acciari, David Backes and Sean Kuraly hadn’t chipped in with some timely offense. Even defensemen Matt Grzelcyk (six goals in 129 regular-season games) and Zdeno Chara (5 goals in regular season) joined in on the fun.
Whether or not the Bruins could get this was a legitimate question heading into the playoffs. Coyle wasn’t exactly lighting it up (2-4-6 totals) in his 21 regular-season games with Boston, nor was Johansson (1-2-3 totals in 10 games played). And while there are many ways to win a Cup, having a nonexistent third line generally isn’t one of them.
Yet that line came alive in a big way, with Coyle coming up with a game-winner to start the series and Johansson providing the much-needed second goal to end it. Add in a goal apiece from Nordstrom and Kuraly in Game 6 in Toronto, and the Bruins have gotten some very important contributions in some critical moments from the bottom two lines. That bodes well for their playoff future.
REASON TO FEEL GOOD: BEST LINE IN HOCKEY HAS ONLY SCRATCHED THE SURFACE
The flip side to that secondary scoring boost has been the temporary disappearance of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, often referred to as The Best Line In Hockey™. Their cold spell — and particularly Pastrnak’s struggles to simply stay on his feet and/or handle the puck without coughing it up — provided a bit of stress in the region last week.
But those players are too good to stay down for long, and sure enough, Marchand scored one third-period goal in Game 5 and Pastrnak scored two. That came after Pastrnak had a goal and an assist in Game 4, which was a night when Bergeron scored twice. In some crucial moments, The Best Line In Hockey™ lived up to the name.
And, if you’re an optimist, you might be looking at it this way: The Bruins are in the conference finals, and their best line hasn’t even had one of those sustained runs of dominance that they’re fully capable of going on at any moment. It’s got to be coming sooner or later, doesn’t it?
REASON TO WORRY: CAROLINA HAS BALANCED SCORING, TOO
If you like what the Bruins have been able to do thus far in the playoffs, then you have to appreciate what the Canes have done, too. Carolina has scored 3.09 goals per game while allowing 2.27 goals per game this postseason, standing toe-to-toe with Boston’s 3.07 goals for and 2.15 goals against per game.
And while the Hurricanes may not have an Ovechkin or a Crosby to strike fear into your heart, they have spread out their scoring across the board. Seven different players have scored at least three goals in the Canes’ 11 games, with 12 skaters in all tallying at least one. Teuvo Teravainen leads the way with a six-pack of goals, followed by former UNH product Warren Foegele’s five goals. Sebastian Aho and Jordan Staal have four goals apiece, while Justin Williams, Andrei Svechnikov and old friend Dougie Hamilton each have scored three goals. D-man Jacob Slavin has yet to find the back of the net on any of his 20 shots on goal, but his 11 assists are second-most across the entire league this postseason.
There won’t be one player or one line the Bruins can really focus all of their energy in stopping. The Hurricanes are not where they currently are by accident.
REASON TO FEEL GOOD: RASK PLAYING BEST HOCKEY SINCE 2013 VS. PENGUINS
Do you want to get bombarded with stats, numbers and information … or do you want to see Tuukka sock a few dingers?
The guy is playing out of his mind. He’s locked in, he’s fully engaged, and he’s only getting beaten by deflections or picture-perfect roof jobs.
Is it the best stretch of his career? Wellllllll, it’s close. His .985 save percentage in a four-game sweep of the Penguins, who led the league in scoring, back in the 2013 playoffs still stands alone and probably will always stand alone. But this run right now? It’s providing the foundation for everything the Bruins are doing.
Tuukka sure has come a long, loooong way since that opening night meltdown in Washington.
REASON TO WORRY: RELYING ON GOALTENDER TOO MUCH
Some people might say “every good point has a counterpoint.” As I sit here and argue with myself, I would have to include myself as one of those people.
So, there is this to worry about: For long stretches of the Blue Jackets series, the Bruins were outplayed. Look only at the second period of Game 6, when the Jackets outshot Boston 17-5. The Bruins won that period on the scoreboard 1-0, thanks largely to Rask (and a well-placed clapper from David Krejci).
That’s all well and good, but it’s no way to live. Giving up too many chances will eventually come back to bite any team, no matter who’s in net.
REASON TO WORRY: MCAVOY SUSPENSION
Charlie McAvoy only got two minutes for his hit to the head of Josh Anderson in Game 6, but the league slapped him with a one-game suspension on Tuesday.
Even for just one game, McAvoy’s absence will hurt the Bruins. The 21-year-old D-man leads all Bruins in average time on ice this postseason at a whopping 24:46. That’s two minutes more per game than both Brandon Carlo and Zdeno Chara. He’s part of the power play, he helps to kill penalties, he plays everywhere on the ice, he’s got a goal and five assists, and he is without question one of the three or four most important Bruins. He’s immense.
The Bruins may be able to survive for a short stint without McAvoy, but it won’t be easy.
BONUS REASON TO WORRY: ROD BRIND’AMOUR IS SCARY
Just looks like a super tough dude. Could definitely be cast as the muscle in a mafia movie. This guy shows up to collect? Guess what? You’re paying. One way or another, you’re going to pay up.
Wouldn’t want to mess with him. And he has the 700-game NHL playing career to back it all up.
That is all.
BONUS REASON TO FEEL GOOD: BRAD MARCHAND IS TICKED OFF
We can’t be sure why Brad Marchand has been so testy lately. Maybe he didn’t like coverage of his punch of Scott Harrington. Maybe he’s had a few bad bowls of soup. Nobody knows. But, outside of media members, nobody really cares if Marchand or any player is snippy with the media. Fans just care if he’s playing good hockey.
And Marchand, who leads the Bruins in points, is playing good hockey. His goal and two assists — including a beauty of a pass for the game-winner — in Game 5 were fairly significant contributions, so if he wants to play mad, then maybe it’ll help.
REASON TO FEEL GOOD/REASON TO WORRY: ICE HOCKEY IS A CRAZY SPORT
I mean, really, your feelings won’t matter. To some extent, the execution on the ice won’t always matter. We know enough about hockey to know that the deeper you get into the playoffs, oftentimes nothing matters. Both teams earned their spot in this conference final round, both teams are going to play harder than they’ve ever played, and despite their best efforts, one team will be heading home in supreme disappointment a couple of weeks from now.
It’s going to be wild. Hockey at this time of year is the best. You’ll likely feel nauseous the entire time, but it just might be worth it in the end.