Five years ago, before the NHL lockout, Claude Julien led his now-former team into Boston, where the the Montreal Canadiens took the decisive game seven to complete the comeback from down three games to one. Now the Boston Bruins head coach and a Jack Adams award nominee, Julien would like nothing better than to do the same with his current team, except on their home ice.
“I’d love to be able to return that favor,” Julien told the Associated Press Wednesday.
Last Friday, Boston Bruins fans drowned their sorrows at the many landmarks and bars around the city after watching the Bruins’ season go down in flames—well, almost. Carolina had outplayed the Bruins in just about all aspects in game four of their conference semifinal series, out-shooting and out-working the black & gold and beating them to every loose puck.
Despite that, it was still a tight battle for two periods until Jussi Jokinen added to his recent playoff magic with the go-ahead powerplay goal. That’s where the Bruins totally unraveled, losing focus on defense and allowing two more late goals to ice the game and put the Bruins on the edge of elimination. The way the Bruins were outplayed in games two through four, it looked like the Hurricanes were an unstoppable force on an improbable run.
But now, the series has taken on a whole different look after the Bruins’ back-to-back victories in games five and six. The B’s took care of business on their home ice, thoroughly dominating game five on both ends. Boston took 40 shots while Carolina could only muster 19 on Tim Thomas, who recorded his first career postseason shutout.
Game six wasn’t so easy, but Thomas was even better than in game five, turning away 31 Carolina shots as the Bruins scored four while shooting only 19. Carolina did what they could to try to close out the series, out-shooting and out-hitting the Bruins, but looked helpless despite all their effort. Boston went up 4-1 by the end of the second period, making a very competitive game look like it was out of reach.
Now the Bruins are exactly where they aimed to be as soon as game four ended. Knowing they could not lose another game, the sense of urgency engulfed the Bruins and lit a fire under them. The important thing is that they did not just win game five, but won it very convincingly. They absolutely needed that kind of a momentum-changing win to have a chance to beat the Hurricanes in Raleigh, and it turns out that they had just enough to force the series back to Boston.
Home-ice advantage is something rarely discussed when projecting the outcomes of series, but Boston’s is one that has a chance to be the real momentum-swinger. The typically intense Bruins fans will be going all-out all night in hopes that their energy will transfer to their team. Boston’s Patrice Bergeron believes they will need them to diffuse the magical run that Carolina is on.
“Yes, we’re home, but they’re a good team on the road as well,” Bergeron said of the Hurricanes. “So we have to feed off the crowd.”
Like game six, the outcome of this game will likely rest on the shoulders of Thomas. It will be difficult for either team to gain an advantage in the energy and effort department. It can be expected that, for the most part, each team’s skaters will be ready to play. The most likely difference is which goalie is more ready to play, Thomas or Cam Ward.
The last two games have gone way in favor of Thomas, but Ward has played exceptionally well and the 2006 Conn Smythe trophy winner is the No.1 reason the Hurricanes are where they are right now. If he brings his A-game, Thomas will need to bring his A+ game.
What matters right now is that the Bruins were able to bring this series to a decisive game. Tomorrow, the story of the Bruins will either be of a captivating rally to send them rolling into the conference finals, or a catastrophic disappointment of a season. As the conference’s top seed, the Bruins’ expectations were limited to a Stanley Cup championship.
Can they continue their march toward recapturing the spirit of a city that hasn’t seen them win for almost four decades? Or will they succumb to another compelling playoff run by an unexpected contender?