Kalman: With a sweep in sight, Bruins may keep silencing cynics

Matt Kalman
May 13, 2019 - 6:24 pm

Where once we expected the worst, we now must expect the best.

It’s a lot easier to lower your expectations and then be pleasantly surprised, in sports as in life. But the Bruins have given us no choice. We must give them the benefit of the doubt as they head to Raleigh for Game 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference final up 2-0 in the best-of-7 series.

Every chance they’ve had to fold like a cheap tent has instead turned into a triumph. It started with winning Game 6 on the road in the first round against Toronto, forcing a Game 7 they ultimately won to advance to the second round for the second straight year.

And then there was Game 6 in Columbus in the second round, after winning the previous two games to get within one victory of advancing. The Bruins had every reason to lose that game, considering the Blue Jackets had yet to play their best and the hostile environment was supposed to be at a fever pitch.

Instead, as one Bruins player told me, the typically raucous crowd in Columbus didn’t match its performance from the prior two Blue Jackets home games, and the team followed suit mostly because of Tuukka Rask, a few goal posts that were hit, and the balanced Bruins offense.

That last road victory maybe put the stamp on this Bruins team as a different one than we’ve seen in years past.

“Yeah, I think that was a pretty good statement game of how [we want to play],” forward David Backes said Monday. “We got some good clanks off the post that went the right direction, but maybe that’s all they had when Tuukka was standing tall. But, yeah, that built a little bit more of a belief system that on the road, at home [we can get the job done]. … It’s a heck of a team and a heck of a system to try to counteract and to beat when we’re on our game.”

Over the years the core of this Bruins team has won its share of huge road game in the playoffs, none bigger than Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Vancouver. But that was the Bruins’ only road win of that series. That same year they failed to close out Montreal in Game 6 of the first round or Tampa Bay in Game 6 of the conference final. There are several other examples of the Bruins letting their hands slip off the wheel, and since they haven’t won the ultimate prize since that magical year of 2011, the big road wins they have grabbed haven’t amounted to much.

It’s been OK to be cynical about the Bruins because they’ve hardly instilled confidence in outside observers even in the leadup to some great successes.

This year feels different. Nothing seems to bug these Bruins to throw them off their game. Goals gets scored after the puck hits the netting, opposing coaches make bogus win guarantees, hot-shot teams from non-traditional hockey markets who rose to fame based on celebrations come to Boston on a hot streak – nothing takes the Bruins’ eyes off the prize.

If there’s been one weakness of coach Bruce Cassidy’s teams this year and last, it’s been Game 3s. Boston was 0-2 last year, and has gone 0-2 this year in Game 3s. Doesn’t mean they necessarily played poorly in those games, especially this postseason, but those defeats have given the opponents hope and maybe made life just a tad more difficult for Boston.

Admittedly Cassidy hadn’t thought much about that when asked about it Monday before his flight to Raleigh, but he figures the Bruins can avoid a similar Game 3 fate if they adhere to the philosophy they’ve followed the first two games of this series and pretty much every game they’ve won prior to this series.

 “The message won’t change a lot in terms of the first two games of this series. You know we want to be on time, we don’t want to wait and see what happens,” Cassidy said. “Maybe that was the problem the first road game because we started at home the first two, maybe we too much allowed them to have it their way on the road. So maybe that’s it, we’ve got to talk about it.

“We did talk about that as the series went along in Toronto and in Columbus, to set the tempo, even if you’re on the road. So maybe that message has to get across earlier.”

Would anyone be shocked if the Bruins ended their Game 3 losing streak? Not if you're using recent history as your guide.

It’s too soon to declare this series is over because we haven’t seen the Hurricanes at their best. After getting 30 points from their defensemen in the first two rounds, they’ve gotten one against Boston. Goalie Petr Mrazek hasn’t been the same since coming back from a lower-body injury. Teuvo Teravainen and Nino Niederreiter are on a milk carton more than they’re in the thick of the attack. One has to believe that being rejuvenated by their home crowd will bring out the best in Carolina’s best players and we’ll see a team 180 degrees different than in the first two games.

But will it matter? Is there anything that can stop this Bruins juggernaut that has come together and maybe has more belief in itself as a group than any Bruins team, including the 2011 squad, since the 1980s?

The Bruins haven't closed out this series yet, but they’ve given you no indication that they’re going to do anything less than get two wins and complete the sweep this week, cynics be damned.

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