The Boston Bruins are on the ropes heading into Game 4 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow night, as they trail two games to one. Here are five questions that have to be answered leading up to and during that contest:
1. Will the Bruins get back to playing their game?
The Hurricanes were barraged with questions about the Bruins’ physicality leading up to this series. They must be wondering what everyone was talking about. When Stephane Yelle was hit from behind by Niclas Wallin in Game 3, where was the retaliation? There is such a thing as being too disciplined. The Bruins have obviously reached that point and are obviously having a tough time getting their dander up about any of these Hurricanes players. That’s no excuse. If it means pretending Sergei Samsonov is Andrei Kostitsyn or Tim Gleason is Randy Jones, the Bruins have to start throwing the body again. Right now, the Hurricanes obviously have no fear of the Bruins. And that goes for the whole lineup. I want to see P.J. Axelsson matching Milan Lucic hit for hit.
2. Can the Bruins establish a forecheck?
So much attention has been made to the Bruins’ inability to solve the Hurricanes’ pressure on breakouts, we can almost lose sight of the fact that the Bruins are allowed to do the same thing to the Carolina puck-carriers. Once upon a time, Boston’s forecheck was as dangerous as any. The last two games, other than an occasional solid shift from the Patrice Bergeron line and the fourth line, the Bruins’ forecheck has either failed, or succeeded but a turnover has canceled out the effort. The Bruins have to start to chase the puck like German shepherds after a t-bone. This is no time to stop being aggressive with the season on the line.
3. Can Carolina’s secondary scorers keep this up?
Samsonov, Jussi Jokinen, Matt Cullen and Chad LaRose were all potential X factors that I thought would be no factors coming into this series. Boy was I wrong. These guys are playing their best hockey at the right time and the Bruins have to counter with some physical play (see above) and some secondary scoring of their own. Mark Recchi finally landed on the score sheet in Game 3. When is Bergeron going to score? How about another goal from Zdeno Chara and a first one from Dennis Wideman. The Bruins are supposed to be a balanced offensive team and head coach Claude Julien distributes his minutes as such. It’s time for everyone to reward the receipt of playing time with some actual production.
4. Will Chara bounce back after his two worst games of the season?
In a lot of ways, Game 4 and the rest of this series and other series (however many that will be) are going to write Chara’s legacy. The Bruins’ captain and highest-paid player has to get his act together. He could be playing at less than 100 percent right now, but the Bruins deny that’s the case. So Chara should go out and prove it. He needs to make sure that Eric Staal, Erik Cole and the rest of the Hurricanes’ buzzing forwards feel his wrath in the Boston end. And he needs to let it rip with that slap shot. Cam Ward just got a glove on the one rocket Chara fired in Game 3. I’m pretty sure the Carolina netminder isn’t looking forward to facing three or four more of those.
5. Will the Bruins win Game 4?
That’s the million-dollar question. And I’ll stick to my philosophy of the whole season, since late March, and say yes. They have to. If the Bruins don’t give their best effort and emerge from RBC Center with a ‘W,’ they’re not going to be mathematically out of this series but they’ll really have put a lot of their eight months of hard work and dominant play to waste.
They battled to grab home-ice advantage, they fought for the top seed in the East. To be down 3-1 in a second-round series to a sixth seed — whether the Hurricanes are a different team now than most of the regular season doesn’t matter — would be a major letdown that puts into question everything the Bruins convinced us of over the first 87 games of this season. Chara, Julien, Marc Savard, Peter Chiarelli, they’ll all be on notice should this team fall behind 3-1, a tough deficit to overcome in any playoffs series.