Storm warning is loud, clear
RALEIGH, N C. - The Bruins have a little problem here. This other team seems to think it can win.
Forget the Montreal sweeparoo. Doesn't matter any longer. And forget, too, the regular-season lah-de-dah conquests of the Carolina Hurricanes, those four bombardments during which the Bruins outscored the Carolinians by a robust 18-6 margin. Doesn't matter any longer, either.
What does matter is this: With Jussi Jokinen's goal at 2:48 of overtime last night, the Hurricanes lead this series, 2-1, and they are feeling extremely good about themselves.
With any Hurricane luck whatsoever, there never would have been an overtime. The Bruins were thoroughly outplayed from start to finish. They were outshot by a whopping 38-19 margin in regulation, and that's before we even introduce the six? eight? 10? open nets they missed during the course of the game.
"We had some early chances in overtime," said Boston coach Claude Julien. "But nevertheless, we certainly didn't deserve to win this game. There's such a thing as what you call your 'hockey gods,' and they give a break to the team that deserves it. We didn't deserve the game."
More bad news for the Bruins: The Hurricanes managed to win this game without Cam Ward being called upon to be anything more than a serviceable NHL goalie. "It was a pretty quiet night for myself," he acknowledged.
But when he absolutely had to be brilliant, he was. The Bruins had two pretty good opportunities at the outset of OT. First, Milan Lucic, who had given his team a 1-0 lead in the first period, came sailing in unimpeded on the Carolina goalkeeper, only to be casually turned back. A short time later, the artful Marc Savard was likewise stonewalled on a serious scoring bid. So Ward might be guilty of some unwarranted modesty, after all.
But perhaps the most ominous thing for the Bruins to ponder was the identity of the Carolina winning goal scorer. For Jussi Jokinen is fast becoming Carolina's Mr. Clutch, Mr. Gold Dust, Mr. Keep-It-Close-And-I'll-Win-It-For-You. He was the central offensive figure in Carolina's historic comeback triumph over New Jersey in the previous series (winning Game 4 at 19:59 with a skate job and tying Game 7 on a one-timer past Martin Brodeur with 1:20 remaining).
Has he been selected by the aforementioned hockey gods to be the offensive hero of the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs?
Last night's winner was not the most dramatic thing ever seen in the history of mankind. It was more a case of being in the right place at the right time. There was a rebound, there was a pretty big open space, and it would have been borderline criminal had Jokinen not poked it into the net with his left hand. But the Hurricanes had been missing open nets even more gapingly wide than this one all night, so we must give the man credit for getting the job done.
Jokinen wisely deflected the credit to Sergei Samsonov, who had initiated the play and done all the heavy lifting. "It was an empty net," Jokinen acknowledged. "But it was a big goal for our team."
"Jussi's a guy who steps up his game and takes advantage of his opportunities," saluted Ward.
The affable Finn is truly happy just to be where he is at the present time. For he didn't put on a Carolina uniform until Feb. 7, having arrived here in a trade with Tampa Bay, where things weren't exactly humming (6-10 -16 in 46 games). He clearly needed the proverbial change of scenery.
"But there were veteran players there [Mark Recchi being one of them] who kept saying to me, 'Keep your head up; you're a good hockey player,' " Jokinen pointed out.
That's obvious now, but sometimes in the world of pro sports inherent talent doesn't always manifest itself the way it should. But all that is so much ancient history now. The Hurricanes are happy to have him, and he is tremendously pleased to be in the situation he's in.
"I think in the last month, two months, my confidence is very high, and I am believing in myself," he declared. "I'm feeling I can do some good things on the ice."
The Hurricanes in general are clearly doing some good things on the ice, which means the question must be asked. What's the difference between the team that was outscored so badly by the Bruins during the regular season and the team that has won the last two games and is now in nominal control of this series?
"We are playing much better in our zone," theorizes Ward. "We are playing great defense, and that has led to better offense. And we are limiting our turnovers in the last couple of games."
The Hurricanes were the aggressors from the start. Early on, when the shots on goal differential was a mere 3-2 in their favor, it felt as if it were 10-0. By the 6:05 mark of the second period it was 17-9. After two periods it was 27-15. By the time the Hurricanes' management was welcoming NASCAR star Tony Stewart and his crew on the big screen some 4 1/2 minutes into the third period it was 30-15. It was 38-19 at the end of regulation. Throw in the astounding number of missed open nets and this game could very easily have been in the 8-1 range. Had the Bruins prevailed in OT this would have been a theft of historic significance.
And all this is with Ward being merely solid for most of the game. He did what he had to do. Not once did he find it necessary to, you know, go upside down to make a big Stanley Cup playoff save.
Cam Ward still retains that capability. The Bruins have a lot to think about as they prepare for Game 4.