Here are five questions that have to be answered in Game 2 of the Boston Bruins’ Eastern Conference semifinal series with Carolina tomorrow night, and my thoughts on each one:
1. Does Eric Staal have a pulse?
After scoring the game-winning goal and producing some outstanding games in the first round against New Jersey, the Carolina star center went back into hibernation against the Bruins in Game 1. He’s now gone five games without a point against Boston this season. Staal needs to get away from Zdeno Chara or get some power-play time. I’ll talk more about the man-advantage opportunities below, but as far as getting away from the Bruins’ captain it’s either going to take a change of venue to Carolina (where the Hurricanes will have the second change) or some double-shifting to accomplish that. Of course, it would behoove the Hurricanes if Staal finally stood up to the challenge and actually took it to Chara.
2. Is there any life on the other lines?
If Sergei Samsonov, Rod Brind’Amour and Erik Cole continue on their current pace (one point between them in the playoffs), I expect to see Agent Jack Malone searching for them on next Tuesday’s “Without a Trace.” Those three players, who skated together for a time and then were split up, were basically embarassing in Game 1. Tuomo Ruutu, Matt Cullen and Pat Eaves had their moments, as far as making life a little difficult for Boston goaltender Tim Thomas, but they need to find some finishing touch as well. As I mentioned above, it might be time for Staal to skate some extra shifts, and his talent might aid the above-mentioned missing forwards in their attempts to get out of their slumps.
3. Will Carolina finally make the Bruins take some penalties?
The Bruins have only been shorthanded nine times through their first five playoffs games, and I don’t know if that rate is going to rise any time soon. First, Carolina would have to work a lot harder than it did in Game 1. Second, the Hurricanes will have to solve the Bruins’ neutral-zone defense in order to go on the attack more. Those things might take too long to figure out before this series ends. The Bruins could get nonchalant in their own zone, and starting hooking and grabbing, now that they’ve won five in a row in the postseason, but that’s not likely to happen because this team has a knack for staying grounded.
4. Will the Bruins keep the same lines from the second and third periods of Game 1?
Boston skated those lines in practice today and it looks like those will be the trios that start Game 2. Head coach Claude Julien always reserves the right to change his mind, but the current alignment is almost exactly the one (with the exception of the not-yet-acquired Mark Recchi) that buoyed the Bruins to a remarkable December and January record and catapulted them to the top of the East. In this alignment, P.J. Axelsson gets to focus more on his checking role, Blake Wheeler gets to let his creative side show more and Milan Lucic creates tons of space for Marc Savard and Phil Kessel. For my money, this is the Bruins’ lineup at its best.
5. Will we see more appearances of the dancing bear?
That famous bear from the Bruins TV commercials showed up dancing on the scoreboard after some of the club’s Game 1 goals. Any chance we’ll see him again on the screen? What about a live appearance? One can only hope. Maybe the Bruins should offer free honey to the first 50 bears in the door. A real, live dancing bear might spice up the series if Carolina continues to mail it in. Personally, I’m partial to Fozzie Bear.