The Boston Bruins may be the single most demoralizing opponent in the NHL. You can carry the lion’s share of the action, but if you commit one mistake, they’ll make you pay. Put them on the power play and they’ll blow the game wide open. Let any semblance of frustration seep in and they’ll bury you.
There’s virtually no margin for error.
That’s precisely why the Bruins swept the Carolina Hurricanes in last season’s Eastern Conference Final, and that scenario played out once more in Game 1 of their first-round series on Wednesday.
Despite a relatively poor showing—at least by their standards—Bruce Cassidy’s men pulled out a 4-3 double-overtime victory because they stuck to their identity. Carolina fought hard to climb back into the game, but in the end, Boston’s go-for-the-jugular approach and ability to manufacture chances out of thin air proved too much for Rod Brind’Amour’s club to handle.
In fairness, Carolina was missing Justin Williams, Brett Pesce and Sami Vatanen. Playing without a veteran leader and a pair of key defensive cogs is tough. Against Boston, it’s almost insurmountable.
Even with the return of Dougie Hamilton from injury and the additions of Brady Skjei and Joel Edmundson on the back end, you could sense the jitters on Carolina’s blue line. It goes without saying that longtime Toronto Maple Leaf Jake Gardiner is no stranger to playoff blunders against Boston either. Cassidy’s troops capitalized on these nerves throughout the contest. They didn’t govern the play from start to finish—and part of that boils down to a spirited performance by the Canes— but they took over when they needed to.
After Edmundson opened the scoring in the first period, Carolina grew in confidence. It was skating well as a group and competing vigorously in all three zones. However, Boston never lost its cool. It weathered the storm and waited for its window of opportunity:
Right off an offensive zone faceoff win, Brad Marchand senses that Jaccob Slavin has his back to the play and connects with David Pastrnak to tie the score.
Boston struck in a matter of five seconds to nullify the Hurricanes’ efforts.
From that point forward, the Bruins flipped the switch. In the second frame, they poured it on and controlled 79.1% of the expected goals at 5-on-5. Petr Mrazek was called upon several times to bail his team out. When he couldn’t, Jake DeBrusk helped his cause by missing a gaping net:
The pressure leading up to that gaffe was suffocating. Typically so strong positionally, the Hurricanes were scrambling left and right to survive the onslaught.
Late in the frame, Charlie Coyle provided a perfect illustration of Bruins hockey under Cassidy:
He wins his puck battle and immediately dishes to Anders Bjork in the slot for a great look. There isn’t the slightest thought of setting up or sizing up the opposition. Boston gets the puck and moves it into a high-danger area in one fell swoop. Thankfully for Carolina, Mrazek stood his ground.
Even with that sustained pressure, the game was tied 2-2 entering the third period. The Bruins didn’t let up.
Just 45 seconds in, recent acquisition Ondrej Kase obtains a golden opportunity in tight. When Charlie McAvoy recovers possession, he doesn’t hesitate, launching the puck into the middle of ice because he believes his club holds the advantage in the trenches. He was right:
David Krejci, whose line produced the most scoring chances in the game (12), displayed his trademark patience to shake Mrazek on the forehand.
To their credit, the Hurricanes kept pushing forward and evened up the contest on a seeing-eye Haydn Fleury wrister. Carolina was certainly putting up more of a fight than it did last year, when it was outscored 17-5 and outclassed over four games.
It even tried to give the Bruins a taste of their own medicine with a quick hitter through the jaws of the defense, but Boston has seen that look many times and converted the sequence into a glorious scoring chance:
The story was much the same in overtime. Once they retrieved the puck, the Bruins charted the most direct path to a dangerous opportunity:
There’s barely any time to react.
When double overtime began, Boston’s best players followed that pattern to victory. It took Patrice Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak all of one shift to turn a routine breakout into a gorgeous game-winner.
With a few quick, incisive passes, they slice through Carolina’s neutral zone posture like a hot knife through butter. Poor spacing by the defenders leaves the middle of the ice open, and Bergeron makes no mistake from the slot:
Give them an inch, and they will take a mile.
In a game where Rask wasn’t himself and the power play looked inept, Boston still managed to come out on top.
There was no panic from the Bruins when the Hurricanes battled back on two separate occasions. Krejci’s unit generated a dozen opportunities, Bergeron’s line dominated the high-danger areas, Coyle’s group established home base below Carolina’s goal line and Sean Kuraly’s fourth unit turned the tide through pure grunt work. On the back end, McAvoy and Torey Krug kick-started the transition game with their mobility and crisp passing.
Boston was perfectly comfortable in sudden death because it understood that its road to the winning play was shorter than Carolina’s. It can manufacture a goal in the blink of an eye and boasts the stingiest defense from the regular season. It’s built for this.
No matter what you throw at them, the Bruins play their brand of hockey. As they proved last year—and as the Hurricanes are learning once again this year—it’s awfully difficult to beat.