On this night, end not in sight
The Bruins gave the fans exactly what they deserved.
The resurgent hockey fandom had invested too much in this Bruins team to have the season end in shame. And losing four straight to the Carolina Hurricanes would have been totally shameful.
But it's not over yet. The Bruins made sure of that last night by delivering a powerful we-ain't-dead-yet message, blowing out the Canes by a 4-0 score in a game they dominated from the first drop of the puck. Now it's 3-2, and the Bruins are feeling far better about themselves.
"I think we came up with the game we needed," said defenseman Dennis Wideman. "Now we have to go back to Carolina, and we know what the atmosphere is there."
The atmosphere was pretty festive at the Garden last night, too, thanks to a Bruins performance that featured just about everything that had resulted in 53 regular-season wins and 116 points. The Bruins hit, the Bruins skated, and the Bruins got outstanding goaltending when needed from Tim Thomas.
"We won the puck races and we won the puck battles," said Milan Lucic, who scored the fourth goal on a blistering shot and who had his share of big hits.
They like to talk about winning the so-called one-on-one battles in this sport. On this occasion the Bruins won the one-on-one battles, the two-on-two battles, the three-on-three battles, and just about every battle, right up to the final 18-on-18 battle itself.
There was simply no question which team deserved to win this game.
Watching this game, as opposed to Games 2, 3, and 4, you can easily understand how the Bruins won all four regular-season contests with the Canes by a combined score of 18-6. This game was a complete form reversal of the last three.
"We did a better job of getting the puck in so we could put pressure on them," said Wideman. "Overall, we moved the puck better and we skated better. We moved our feet well."
And they hit. Boy, did they hit. There were three big hits in one shift - two by Zdeno Chara and one by Chuck Kobasew, prior to the third goal, the second of two Phil Kessel scores.
"We were making the hits when they were there," Wideman explained. "In the last two games we were trying to make hits that weren't there, and we were getting picked apart. Tonight we did a better job of making the hits that really were there."
It was all Bruins, all the time, right from the start. The Hurricanes didn't even have an official shot on goal until 11-plus minutes had elapsed. But it just so happened it was a big one.
It's almost a goalie's nightmare. A goalie needs a little early action just to get the juices flowing. But the Bruins were so dominant in the first eight-plus minutes, putting eight legitimate shots on Cam Ward, that Thomas was getting stale.
And then it happened.
Eric Staal, the great Carolina center, got loose, flying in on Thomas and letting one go. But Thomas, on his first action of the evening, made a nice glove save.
"Fortunately, I was able to make the save right off the bat, and that settled me down," said Thomas.
"He kept the momentum going for us," Marc Savard said of Thomas. "He made that huge save, and it really lifted the bench. He hadn't been getting much action till that point."
But it was still scoreless at that point, a situation that would change less than three minutes later when Lucic would initiate the sequence with a thundering hit on Carolina defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. A frustrated Seidenberg responded and went off for slashing, and the Bruins made him pay when Savard won the draw and Mark Recchi redirected a shot/pass from Chara.
At that point, the shots on goal were 12-1. It would rise to 15-1, and before the period was over the Bruins would have a 2-0 lead when Kessel drilled one home on a great centering pass from Savard. You can safely say that the skill players brought their "A" games last night.
That second goal was preceded by some nice work from Thomas, who turned away both Sergei Samsonov and, on a long rebound, Joni Pitkanen in a dramatic bang-bang sequence.
However it happened, the simple fact is the Bruins found their rhythm after two games in Raleigh, N.C., in which they appeared to have forgotten everything they had ever learned about how to play this game.
"We struggled down there," said Lucic. "For sure, they didn't make it easy on us, but tonight we just did a better job of getting on the puck and keeping it in their zone."
"We were more under control," surmised Thomas. "In Games 3 and 4 I think we were actually moving too fast. We were much more together tonight. Everyone did a good job of supporting each other."
Losing was one thing, and no one should be shocked that a home team won a Game 5 in an elimination game. But losing and ticking off the opponent is another thing, and this is what the Hurricanes did last night. The series took a potentially dramatic turn with 35 seconds left in the second period and the Bruins cruising by a 3-0 score. That's when Raleigh folk hero Jussi Jokinen whacked Chara on the back of the leg with his stick. It was a temporarily terrifying sight, with Big Z facedown, his left hand reaching for his left leg. Ankle? Achilles'? Who knew?
He skated off gingerly, but this is hockey, remember, and he is the Captain. Sure enough, he did return, swinging his big leg back over the boards 48 seconds into the final period, and he took all his remaining shifts. But that play will not be forgotten.
Was this a dramatic farewell game of thanks? Or was this the game that will jump-start the Bruins to a historic comeback? We'll find out. All we can say now is that it was a great show.
This was the Bruins team the fans had come to know and love.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.