After being shut down by Cam Ward, beaten to almost every loose puck, and simply out-worked and out-played by the Carolina Hurricanes, the Boston Bruins entered Sunday on the brink of elimination. But they did exactly what they needed to in Game Five: deliver an all-around performance and give Carolina no chance to win.
But what to make of this Boston team now? They looked lost and confused in Games Two through Four, which included a shutout in the second contest. Ward has looked like the Conn Smythe winner he was in 2006, and the Hurricanes have played much better than a No. 6 seed. In a sense, it’s no surprise that they put the Bruins in this position.
But the top-seeded Bruins let it be known Sunday that they would not go down without putting up a fight, and they made the Hurricanes look like the inferior squad they were perceived to be entering the series.
The 4-0 victory was about as good an overall performance we’ve seen from the Bruins this year, but it pains all of New England that the Eastern Conference’s best regular-season squad had to do just that to stave off elimination.
Boston fans would obviously be more satisfied to have seen that game give the Bruins the series lead, rather than take them one step toward a comeback from a 3-1 deficit.
Still, there were plenty of things to like about the game for Boston faithful. Tim Thomas earned his first career postseason shutout, although he only faced 19 shots, and at the same time, the Bruins peppered Ward with 40 shots, 10 of which came from Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman.
Phil Kessel scored twice after not scoring a single goal all series. The Bruins out-hit the Hurricanes 25-15 and edged them out in the faceoff battle 29-27 to boot.
That the Bruins have made it this far in the series with minimal production from Kessel is a testament to their depth and ability to get scoring from all four lines. Michael Ryder has stepped up huge for them, with 11 points in nine Playoff games. Plus, Marc Savard is picking up right where he left off at the end of the regular season.
Milan Lucic has played as expected with his hard-nosed style but has surprised many by being an unexpected offensive force (he has four points in the series).
As a team, Boston held Eric Staal to three shots on goal and a -3 rating. The huge shots-on-goal differential is indicative of how efficient the Bruins were at both ends of the ice.
Yes, there is plenty to like about how the Bruins played game 5. But they are still down 3-2 in the series, and despite their game 5 effort being about as good as one can hope for, they still need to take the next game in Carolina to stay alive.
The Hurricanes ought to be expected to come out for the next battle with the same type of urgency and intensity with which the Bruins came out at the start of Game Five. Surely Carolina does not want this series to come down to a Game Seven in Boston.
But all the pressure will still be on the Bruins. They are the ones in a must-win situation. They showed what they can do at home in a win-or-go-home scenario, and they will need to repeat that performance in Game Six, if not play better. I said before this past contest that the Bruins will need to dominate to have a chance in the series, and they did just that.
Now they have a chance, but it’s still only a fighting chance.
The Hurricanes took a beating in Game Five, but we can all rest assured that won’t happen again, and certainly not on their home ice. This time, they will be the ones who come out swinging. It will be up to the Bruins to swing back.