Bruins earn respite with some nice work
RALEIGH, N.C. - What's better than a five-day stay in Florida in the middle of the winter? For the Bruins, unable to win in their previous four games, it turned out to be a quick stop on Tobacco Road, where they finally got their power play smoking in a 5-1 win over the Hurricanes last night before 18,680 at the RBC Center.
Paced by three goals in the late stages of the third period - including the first by Patrice Bergeron since Nov. 21 - the Bruins pushed their league-high point total to 88, affording them a firmer grip on first place in the Eastern Conference.
They snapped their longest losing streak of the season (0-2-2) and set themselves up perfectly for today's mental health break in Florida, where golf and deep-sea fishing junkets await - rewards of rest and relaxation for what has turned into their best regular-season performance since 1970-71.
"A little bit of the monkey is off of our back," said defenseman Shane Hnidy, whose even-strength goal early in the second period snapped a 1-1 tie and proved to be the winner on Glen Wesley Night, the ex-Bruin honored with his No. 2 Carolina sweater lifted to the rafters. "It has been our biggest slide of the year, and you know, it can be hard to get out of them."
For a while in the third period, still clinging to the 2-1 lead Hnidy delivered with a long-range wrister, the Black-and-Gold looked unable to shake their funk. The Hurricanes, fighting to remain playoff-relevant, came out the better amid a flurry of penalties and were working with a four-on-three advantage for 44 seconds when Chuck Kobasew was whistled for hooking at 14:26.
However, the Bruins burned off the four-on-three without allowing a shot, and with 3:48 remaining in regulation, while still killing a five-on-four, Bergeron sent David Krejci off on a breakaway. The speedy penalty killer finished it off with a smart backhand lift past Cam Ward to boost the lead to 3-1.
"I was hoping he could get it through somehow," said Krejci, noting that Bergeron picked the puck from Anton Babchuk in the defensive end and lobbed the pass into the neutral zone. "That was a tough play for him, but he made it. I didn't know I was on a breakaway, but I looked to my right and saw nothing - and then there were no options but to go for it."
The shorthander served as prelude to a Kobasew power-play goal only one minute later, all part of a period that rapidly fell apart for the Hurricanes. Kobasew, working the first-unit power play after a recent leg injury, provided a tip to Zdeno Chara's steaming slapper from the high slot. Bergeron then added the 5-1 closer with 51 seconds left, barreling in alone for a rare and easy shorthanded empty-net goal.
"Tonight was the night, I guess," said Bergeron, playing his best hockey over the last three games since suffering a concussion Oct. 27, 2007, that cost him the remainder of last season. "All I needed was no goalie."
The Hurricanes struck first with 11:03 gone in the first period, Matt Cullen sweeping in a short-range forehander after Ray Whitney zipped by Dennis Wideman and fed a backhander into the slot.
A little more than six minutes later, though, Blake Wheeler knocked in a power-play goal, ending a skid of four games in which the Bruins did nothing on the man-advantage. The deadlock stayed in place until Hnidy, set up with a feed off a faceoff that had Krejci beating Rod Brind'Amour, fired in his wrister, with rookie Vladimir Sobotka providing a screen down low.
"We threw some pucks at the net and created some momentum," said Boston coach Claude Julien, who shook up his lines dramatically and saw the new trios play with energy and efficiency. "I thought our game came around the longer the game went. We seemed to get more chances."
The Bruins took 74 shots on the night and landed 34 on net. The Hurricanes hit Tim Thomas with 32 of the 56 they attempted. Funk? Did someone say something about a funk? Not anymore.
"Our power play was gone for a while," mused Julien. "But it was extremely good for us tonight, and that's the kind of role it can play for us when it's on."