By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
Heading into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden on Thursday night to face the upstart Carolina Hurricanes, Bruins’ fans have every right to feel bully about their team’s chances to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in six years.
And while that series came to a gut-wrenching conclusion with just over a minute left against the then dynastic Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 at the barn on Causeway Street, there just doesn’t seem like there is a potential opponent in either conference that is capable of pulling a rabbit out of their hat like the Hawks did in 2013.
The B’s path to their potential seventh Stanley Cup Championship seemingly has been plowed reasonably clear by the hockey gods, with the Tampa Bay Lighting, former reigning champs Washington Capitals, and Pittsburgh Penguins bowing out in the first round in the East. Not to mention the Calgary Flames suffering the same fate in the West.
Now, after a hard-fought first round seven-game series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and an almost equally intense second round win in six games over the Columbus Blue Jackets – who, perhaps, did the Bruins the biggest favor they could have asked for this spring by sweeping the Bolts – the Black and Gold need just four more wins against a ‘Canes club that no one gave a sliver of a chance of being where they are now when the NHL’s second season began a month ago.
For their part, the Bruins players are doing their best Bill Belichick/Lou Holtz impression when it comes to the team that stands between them and a shot at playing for the Cup.
The B’s All-Universe center and future Hall of Famer Patrice Bergeron had plenty of good things to say about the club Don Cherry dubbed “a bunch of jerks” on Wednesday following the team’s practice.
“Carolina’s a great team you know, I think we’ve seen when we have played them. They’re in your face. They don’t give you much space, and is very deep also, and have some very good puck moving defensemen” said the Bruins assistant captain.
“I think it is going to be a similar series like we have seen so far in the first two. Like I said, five on five is very tight hockey, and [they] have some pretty big bodies. So, [it will be] a physical series, and we’re expecting that it will be a tough one.”
The most despised player left in the playoffs – if not in the entire NHL – Brad “Crispy” Marchand agreed with his preeminent pivot when it comes to what will be in store when the puck drops at 8 pm on Thursday night.
“They’re similar to both teams that we’ve played so far, in ways. They’re a very good skating team, but they are also very physical. So, they’re a mix of Columbus and Toronto,” opined the prickly winger. “I think one thing they are doing is playing extremely well right now, so it’s going to be a very tough series.”
It’s one thing to offer kudos to an opponent that is largely viewed as a considerable underdog, but it is another thing to go out and execute your gameplan when pretty much the entire hockey world – minus the “jerks” in Carolina – think that you should steamroll your way to the Finals.
If it’s one thing that the Bruce Cassidy coached Bruins have done since he took over some two-plus years ago is to consistently compete no matter the circumstances facing them. They have overcome injuries, adversity – and, at times the odds – to become the Stanley Cup favorite they are today. Cassidy has seemingly had the right answers at the right times since he was named the B’s bench boss in February of 2017.
Now, perhaps his biggest challenge facing him as the semi-final series begins against Carolina on Thursday night might just be to keep his team from believing what almost thinks lies ahead of them.