WILMINGTON, Mass. — The Boston Bruins swept the four-game regular-season series from the Carolina Hurricanes, but the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded club is predictably not letting its guard down before its conference semifinal series with the Hurricanes starts Friday.
“They’re a much different team than the one we played in the regular season,” said head coach Claude Julien after his team practiced at Ristuccia Arena. “They just compete so hard and they’re playing well as a group, they believe in themselves and have a lot of confidence going. Their goaltending has been outstanding, so we’re in for a good challenge and a good series here.”
Cam Ward has been tremendous in net and was one of the key reasons the sixth-seeded Hurricanes were able to defeat third-seeded New Jersey in seven games in the first round. Carolina was a work in progress all season long, first when they switched coaches from Peter Laviolette to Paul Maurice Dec. 4. All the Bruins wins over Carolina came after that date. But Boston has not seen the Hurricanes since they re-acquired Erik Cole from Edmonton March 4 at the trade deadline. That deal sparked the Hurricanes to finish the regular season 17-5-2 in their last 24, including a nine-game winning streak from mid to late March.
Bruins winger Mark Recchi, also a trade-deadline acquisition, saw the Hurricanes up close throughout his time with the Tampa Bay Lightning. While Recchi was with the Lightning, they lost to Carolina all five times they faced them.
“They just got better and better,” said Recchi, who posted 2-2-4 totals and a plus-1 rating with Tampa Bay against the Hurricanes this season. “Obviously, they made a coaching change and it takes a while to get an impact. And obviously the last 25 games of the year they were one of the top teams in the league to get themselves into the playoffs.
“Their goaltending has been terrific, he’s a great goalie. I was fortunate enough to be with him in ’06 and he took us for a ride. And he’s playing that same way right now. That gives you a lot of confidence as Timmy (Thomas) does us. When you have that confidence, you go out there and you play the game and you play loose and you play the right way, and that’s what they’ve done.”
That ’06 experience, which Recchi and defenseman Aaron Ward enjoyed with the Hurricanes en route to the Stanley Cup, should come in handy for Carolina this time around. Cam Ward, especially, won’t be as vulnerable to a rattling like Montreal’s Carey Price in the first round.
The amount of postseason experience is another area these two teams are evenly matched.
“There’s obviously a lot of guys still that are there that were part of that team, and we’ve got two of them on our side — Recchi and Ward. We’ve got guys that have won Stanley Cups. That experience helps,” said Julien. “And they’ve got their goaltender Ward, who was a rookie that year, who won the MVP of the playoffs, so all that said it just makes it a real good series.”
The Bruins have done their part to talk up the Hurricanes and keep themselves from taking a team that finished 19 points back of the conference lead during the season lightly. Now we’ll see how they do when it comes time to beating them on the ice.