Over and out
Bruins are sent packing by the Hurricanes
Winter, so generously extended into May, has come to a close.
With a bat of his stick in overtime last night at TD Banknorth Garden, Carolina forward Scott Walker triggered the start of a final ice melt that came late this season. Not as late as the Bruins were hoping.
For the first time in recent Black-and-Gold memory, the Bruins had the blueprint - ace goalie, stud defenseman, four lines of rough and rugged attack - that hinted at hockey extending into June, that magical month where history is made and the Stanley Cup is lifted. The Bruins, once in a 3-1 rut against the sixth-seeded Hurricanes, were one goal away from completing the comeback and inching one step closer to their final goal.
But late last night, instead of resting their legs for a third-round showdown against the Penguins, some of the Bruins took razors to faces and trimmed the playoff beards they were no longer qualified to wear.
Milan Lucic, one of the giants of the series, was one of those players who reached for the blade after last night's 3-2 overtime loss before 17,565 fans, most of them stunned into silence by the quick-strike shot that felled the Bruins. Lucic, who scored the tying goal in the third period, was The Man. But shortly after the loss, the man looked more like a boy, clean-shaven and fresh-faced because of the punch-to-the-gut loss.
"It's not a great feeling at all," Lucic said of watching Walker's winner. "That's pretty much it. It's not a good feeling to see it go in. It sucks the life out of you. You've worked so hard to get yourself so far. We came up short."
The Bruins were less than two minutes away from preparing for a second overtime. But in an instant, the Hurricanes put an end to an emotional, exhausting, and exhilarating game by taking advantage of the element that put them over the top.
Forward Ray Whitney barreled into the Boston zone with speed and whipped a shot on goal. Tim Thomas (34 saves) got a piece of Whitney's shot, but the rebound popped into the air.
"I couldn't completely control it," said Thomas. "It was in a spot where I put it in the air. And before I knew it, he had already whacked at it."
Walker, promoted to the No. 1 line last night by coach Paul Maurice, had whizzed into the Boston zone, stopped short of the crease, and batted the puck into the net. And just like that, the No. 1-ranked team with the Cup in its sights was done, with nothing remaining but to shake the hands of the opponents who turned out to be the better players in this seven-game brawl.
"There's not much you can say," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "Obviously, there's huge disappointment. And rightfully so. We can say what we want, but we had higher expectations than this. I'm kind of glad that we did. I'd hate to have people that are satisfied.
"There's no doubt that players are upset. So are we as a coaching staff. We needed to get through this game. In overtime, it's about bounces. They made their own bounces and took advantage of it. It's disappointing. Sometimes there's not much you can say. For me to go in the room and tell them how proud I am of them, I don't think they need to hear that right now. I think they need their space. We'll have time to regroup here and say the right things at the right time."
The Bruins netted the game's first goal when Byron Bitz, a healthy scratch for the first four games of the series, took a clever feed from David Krejci and beat goalie Cam Ward (34 saves) at 7:42 of the opening period. Carolina tied the score at 13:59 of the second at the end of a P.J. Axelsson hooking penalty. Captain Rod Brind'Amour nestled himself between Zdeno Chara and Aaron Ward in front of the net and got a piece of Dennis Seidenberg's slap shot from the point.
At 7:45 of the second, Sergei Samsonov beat his old club when he took a cross-ice pass from defenseman Joni Pitkanen and found the back of the net. The Bruins had three man-advantage opportunities in the second period to tie the score and perhaps take the lead.
But the power play, mighty against Montreal in the first round, shot blanks on all three second-period opportunities. The Bruins finished the game 0 for 4 on the power play.
"It wasn't where we wanted it to be," Julien said. "Especially in a game like tonight, you need your power play to give you that goal. Had they done that, we might have had a different result. But that's hindsight again. Our penalty kill did a great job. But our power play, for some reason in the second round, just didn't seem to have the same swagger and same confidence. It certainly didn't help our cause."
In the third period, Marc Savard walked out from behind the net and saw Lucic open in front. Lucic took Savard's pass, settled the puck, and roofed it over Ward at 6:19 to tie the score at 2. The Bruins had their chances late in regulation to beat Ward, but the netminder, who still hasn't lost a playoff series in his career, stood tall.
In overtime, the Bruins put eight more pucks on Ward, including a Grade-A chance in the slot off Krejci's stick. He stopped all of them, while Thomas couldn't save the one shot he wanted to stop so desperately.
"We're down, 3-1, and we battle back like this," said Savard. "It's just shocking when it ended like that."