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Bruins attempt to finish rally against Canes

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By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / May 14, 2009
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WILMINGTON - The Bruins and Hurricanes will draw a line under their second-round playoff series tonight, summing up seven games, two weeks, and enough mood swings for Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli to give serious consideration to bringing in Dr. Phil for tonight's pregame group hug/therapy session/inspirational speech.

Not really. Dr. Phil is too busy to be chewing on power plays, breakout passes, or how to summon one's Rocket Richard within. We think.

What we have witnessed here, in what the Bruins hope is their circuitous route to a berth in the Eastern Conference finals, has been a Boston team able to press on - and perhaps now survive? - despite a protracted bout of sleepwalking hockey for the first four games. The Conference champs in the regular season, they laced together four clumsy and ineffective outings, and if it weren't for the Canes being even worse in their Game 1 pratfall, the Bruins might have been ousted in four straight.

As Boston coach Claude Julien noted following Game 4 in Raleigh, N.C., "For some reason, we've picked the worst time of the year to play our worst hockey."

But here they are, with their effort revived and their overall game better focused the last two outings, with a Game 7 last chance to take on the Penguins for a co-starring role in the Stanley Cup semis (likely to begin Monday night). According to Julien, star pivot Marc Savard will be in the lineup, feeling fit after getting his right knee clipped Tuesday night in a leg-to-leg collision with pesky Canes forward Chad LaRose at the 1:08 mark of the third period.

The smack effectively shut Savard down for the night, leaving the Bruins to steer home a 4-1 lead absent their leading playmaker and offensive catalyst. Always among the chattiest on the team, Savard was not made available to the media yesterday at the club's training facility, casting some suspicion on Julien's contention that everything was good to go, fine 'n' dandy, and hunky-dory with his sprightly sprocket of a centerman.

For the moment, figure Savard to be penciled in on the No. 1 line with Milan Lucic and Phil Kessel, but also figure it could change at a moment's notice. Much like the entire series.

On the subject of momentum swings, consider what Boston goalie Tim Thomas said: "There's been more than in any series I've ever been involved in."

Thomas is not prone to hyperbole. If anything, he is a master of understatement, noting time and again he prefers a microview of the game, one that leaves him focused on reading, stopping, and redirecting shots. But he nailed the overview of Round 2, Canes vs. Bruins. The teams collided after emotional series - Boston vs. Montreal; Carolina vs. New Jersey - and the result has been a series in which they've taken turns looking like would-be Cup contenders and postseason stunt clowns.

Captain Zdeno Chara, noting that he has played in three or four Game 7s in his NHL career and never come out a winner, will be one of the Bruins who will have something to say prior to tonight's 8 o'clock faceoff.

"Just play, do your best, and be smart," said Big Z, who began to take control of the series in Game 5, with the Bruins trailing, three games to one. "Sometimes players end up trying to do too much because it's Game 7. Just stick with the game plan, do your job . . . don't try to do too much. I am sure a lot of things will be said [tonight], and it won't be just one guy - I think everyone is going to say something. It will be huge for us to be ready."

The biggest statement Chara can make, similar to the days when Ray Bourque captained the Black and Gold, would be his level of physical play. Chara imposed himself with his physical play and defensive-zone control in Game 5, following two games in Carolina in which he, and the rest of his teammates, played woefully below their customary compete level.

Once Chara, Chuck Kobasew, and especially Lucic came out banging like the "We Want It Bad" Bruins, the smaller Carolina forwards seemed to grow even smaller, to the point that their towering centerman, Eric Staal, looked downright pedestrian (also a function of Chara getting him back on his radar). As the Bruins increased the hitting and won more puck battles, they also more easily gained the offensive zone and did a far better job of holding the zone than in Games 3 and 4. Confusion gave way to concentration and concentration gave way to confidence and goal scoring.

When unable to press the puck and carry the play, the Bruins too often got bottled up in their end, frequently for 20, 30 seconds or more, leaving the likes of Chara and partner Aaron Ward to be spun around or wheeled around in their own end of the ice. As a group, Boston's six blue liners were inefficient at helping to make any transition to offense when working deep in their own end. Above all, the first four games, and especially the losses in Raleigh, served as fair warning to the Bruins to make defense a game best not played with their backsides pressed to the rear wall.

The Canes tonight will attempt to step right back into their form of Games 3 and 4, when their speed combined with Boston's jitters handed them what only on Friday night looked like an insurmountable series lead. Playoff history shows that 91.1 percent of the teams falling into a 3-1 series deficit eventually fall out of the playoffs. The Bruins have shown for two games that they can buck the odds, even if their history shows that they are 0 for 20 in series in which their opponents held that 3-1 lead.

"You always have a little bit of butterflies," said Chara, contemplating the mood in his room leading up to tonight's faceoff. "Yes, it's a deciding game, but at the same time you have to relax and just play. It won't do you any good if you are squeezing the stick, and thinking what the final result will be - we have to be composed and relaxed out there."

Game 7. The Bruins haven't won one of these at home since 1994 when they rubbed out the Habs on True Garden ice to capture Round 1. Overall, they are 9-8 in Game 7s. And they have never won a Game 7 as the final stroke in rallying from a 3-1 deficit. Julien made it happen once, when he was directing the Canadiens in 2004, and the Bruins were his victims.

"Right now," mused Julien, "I'd love to be able to return the favor."

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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