RALEIGH — It’s time to cue the cheesy Bonnie Tyler music in Bruins Land.
The Boston Bruins need a hero and he has to be strong, and he has to be … well, he has to not turn the puck over, first and foremost. If you watched the Bruins lose, 3-2, in overtime in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Carolina Hurricanes tonight at RBC Center, you must be wondering what sport the East’s top-seeded club is playing right now — because it sure isn’t hockey.
Now, for maybe the first time all season, the team that was only mildly challenged for first place in the conference and overcame injuries (but half as many as some teams that lost legions of players to different maladies) is in a hole that they’ll only be able to dig out of with some iron will and dirt-tough determination that we really don’t know if this club possesses.
While the Hurricanes were a far superior product for 100 of the last 120 minutes of this series than the Bruins, Boston has really rolled over and let Carolina do anything it wants. All three Carolina goals were result of Boston turnovers, including the game-winner — a play that started with an awful breakout pass by Zdeno Chara that went to Hurricanes speedster Sergei Samsonov.
Steve Montador’s tape-to-tape pass to Eric Staal set up the first Carolina goal, and a Phil Kessel swan dive with the puck, after nothing but a soft wind touched him, led to the second score. After surviving a shooting gallery to take a 1-0 lead to the locker room after one period, the Bruins only showed faint flashes of the team that led the league in goals scored and goals allowed in the regular season the rest of the night.
So who’s going to step up and lead the charge in Friday night’s Game 4? It would’ve been nice to ask Chara if he’s ready to lift the Bruins from the ashes of a second straight defeat (and what happened on the last play, and why he has struggled the last two games), but the captain declined to speak. All year long Chara’s talked about the leadership group that he shares responsibility with. So the captain left it to his minions to explain what’s going on and what’s going to happen.
“When they’re competing like that and they’re on top of us, I don’t know if we’re not ready for it or exactly what, but the coaches have given us great game plans, we know what to expect, and we just don’t seem to be ready for some things,” said winger Mark Recchi, a future Hall-of-Famer, who joined the Bruins just two months ago but has become a mouthpiece for the team. “We’ve just got to be better. We’ve got to be more energized and we’ve got to find the level of play that this team has been so good all year. I believe we will. I think our backs are against the wall here. We’re going to have a day to get ready and I think Friday hopefully is our best game of the year and we can take the home-ice advantage back and go home and see what we can do.”
Alternate captain Patrice Bergeron also faced the music. He wouldn’t give in to the notion that Carolina is outworking the Bruins. But he did hint at it with his words of praise for the Hurricanes.
“I just think that obviously they have a good team and a lot of speed and they come hard, they come to play. They never stop battling to get the loose pucks and we’ve got to find a way to do it the same way, which is don’t give them too many opportunities in the slot and play our game, play our system,” said the young future captain. “That’s going to give us the most success.”
“I’m not saying they’re outworking us. I’m just saying it’s a hard-working team; they skate a lot. We’ve got to find a way to counter that forecheck.”
To their credit, the players have mostly accepted the blame for their shortcomings in Games 3 and 4. They say that Jack Adams nominee Claude Julien and his staff have done all they can do with their strategies and game planning. And they’re probably right. If they are, then it’s time for some players to actually step up and do something about it. From their words, we know that Recchi and Bergeron, and Tim Thomas and Dennis Wideman are chomping at the bit to get back at it Friday night.
We don’t, however, know what Chara is thinking or going to do. His performance this and last season would lead you to believe that he’s going to break out with a vengeance, but this isn’t a player with a ton of long postseason runs under his belt. And he hasn’t gone through any as his team’s focal point and physical and emotional leader.
Right now, Eric Staal and the Hurricanes are getting the better of the Bruins. And the face of the Bruins, the man who’s job it is to keep Staal in check, is Chara. So while he can duck the media, he can’t duck the significance of these upcoming moments.
We’ll find out just what Chara and the Bruins are made of Friday night and the rest of this series. For the Black and Gold’s sake, hope that Chara’s actions speak a lot louder than his lack of words.