BOSTON -- The Bruins have provided an answer toone of the great mysteries in the NHL this season while turning into the hockey team equivalent of a puddle against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Black and Gold hockey clubcapped off a season series to forget against Carolinawith their fourth defeat in four games asthey dropped a 3-0 shutout loss to the Canes at TD Garden on Thursday.
While some of the reasons behind Bostons struggles against alast-place Hurricanes remain as mystifying to the casual observer as the popularity of the vapid Twilight movie series, Carolina has provided other NHL teams with the closest thing to a blueprint while attempting to take out the Bruins.
Its not easy and its not for the faint of hockey heart, but Carolina showed that the Bruins can be exploited while piling up a 4-0 record and outscoring the Bs by an 11-5 margin in a string of decisive decisions. The latest shutout loss had Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton irritatedfollowingthe final horn had sounded. Thornton outlined some of the problems that the Hurricanes presented to an Eastern Conference power like Boston, and made it pretty clear it was Boston's doing more than whatever Carolina was doing.
Its not good enough. Its the same thing weve been talking about for the last however long. We absolutely fall asleep in the second period. Not good enough at all, said Shawn Thornton through gritted teeth. I dont think we had everyone goingagain. Its the same old story. Were not that good that we can just come out and go through the motions while expecting to be successful.
So how do the Hurricanes routinely derail and dismantle the Black and Gold?
First it starts with a solid goaltender in Cam Ward thats capable of matching the Bruins elite goaltending when hes going well between the pipes. Sure Ward made 47 saves in Thursdays shutout win over the Bruins, and that's agaudynumber.But the Bs shooters didnt conjure up nearly enoughin the way of traffic or chaos by shoving theirbodies intodanger infront of the net.
They played a good game, Cam Ward played a really good game but at the same time, I dont think we made it tough enough for him to save forty whatever shots, said Thornton. I think he pretty much saw every one of them. I think we definitely could have been harder to play against on all areas of the ice.
Most important for any team hoping to follow in Carolinas footsteps is a detached, passionless approach to facing the Black and Gold. The Hurricanes had success against the Bruins in the playoffs three years ago because they simply let the sleeping Bruins giants stay dormant through the seven-game series. That same turn the other cheek philosophy worked like a charmback in October when Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason rousted Nathan Horton into a third period meltdown.The same Gandhi approach to hockeywas effective against the Bruins once againwhen the calendar switched to February.
The Hurricanes skated swiftly, threw a few hits when the chances presented themselves and avoided the post-whistle scrums with the Bruins that generally morphinto rallying points for Boston. The Carolinafore-checking speed forced the B's defensemen into turnovers in their own end, and that led to the three goals needed to beat Boston."The Bruinsforce us to play our game which is good. We've been able to skate and move the puck, and just play our best game when we play Boston," said Carolina head coach Kirk Muller. "We know that if we get into a physical battle with the Bruins then we're going to lose. So we turn it into a fast-skating game, stay with the game plan and then hope that keeps us in the game at the end."Sounds like a plan.By the third period, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand were taking retaliation and frustration penalties, and the Little Ball of Hate was angrilythrowing his equipment around the bench after a couple of non-calls on high sticks to his face.
It was clear the Hurricanes werent indulging in the behavior that would allow the Bruins to tap into their emotional touchstones, but the Bruins need to find another way to get fired up as a team.
Johnny Boychuk, for one, wasnt using Carolinas passive ways as an excuse for Boston to check out of the game mentally.
You have to get yourself in the game as well, said Boychuk. You cant just let the other team rattle you up, you have to get ready and play the game.
The Bruins could get matched up against similar teams to the Canes in the playoffs, and the above qualities are the exact reasons that both the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils could throw a scare in the Black and Gold. There's no reason to hate them -- just like the Canes -- and the Bruins thrive on hate.Both teams have good goaltending thats given Boston problems in the past and both can play that sleepy style of hockey that can lull the Bruins into a mediocre, hazy style of play.
Of course it goes without saying that the Bruins are 4-4-1 in their last nine games, have been outscored by their opponents by a 31-27 margin during that span and are experiencing some heavy issues in the second periods of games. Some of the Bs struggles against Carolina are a result of good timing on the Hurricanes part astheyve hit Boston at exactly the right points while avoiding them in their red-hot run during November and December. That's a point that shouldn't be ignored and points to the Bruins killing themselves with self-inflicted wounds against the Hurricanes.
If youre not playing really good hockey, you can get beat. We havent played our best games against the Hurricanes, but saying they are an effective team and they do certain things really well is a combination of two things, said Andrew Ference, who teamed with defense partner Adam McQuaid for a rough night back in action with the Bruins. I dont think we played our best. In this league if youre not at your best you definitely leave yourself open to be beaten.
Make that wide open to be beaten.
The final piece of Carolinas perfect plan against the Bruins is something that Boston wont have to worry about in the playoffs. The Thursday loss to Carolina represents the 11th time in 15 losses this season that the Bruins have dropped a game to a team with a losing record. Its crystal clear the Bruins arent bringing their Spoked-B best when the moment doesnt inspire them. The Bruins are at their best against the best, and Carolina is far from that this year.
Carolina fits that description to a T as the Eastern Conferences last place hockey club, but those clubs will be off to the golf course when the games truly become important this spring. But the Hurricanes have offered food for thought to the rest of the NHL hungry for a consistent way to take down the reigning Stanley Cup champs, and thats the most they could have hoped to accomplish in another lost season for them.