Thursday night’s game ended with the same result as the series itself: 4-0.
The Boston Bruins weathered the storm—excuse the pun—and swept the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bruins are now through to the Stanley Cup Finals for the third time this decade.
In the ultimate “in your face” moment, Boston won the series-clinching game without its captain and top defensive defenseman, Zdeno Chara. Perhaps the Bruins were just resting “Big Zee” because they had a 3-0 series lead entering Thursday, but he was deemed to have an undisclosed injury that will leave him day-to-day. However, he should be ready to go for Game 1 of the Cup Finals.
With the way things are shaping up out in the Western Conference between the San Jose Sharks and the St. Louis Blues, the Bruins might not be playing again for another week or so. That series will turn out to be a true battle of attrition and it has the possibility of going the distance.
Let’s not complain, though. The B’s could certainly use the rest. The argument for sweeping a team and having significant time off in between games has always sparked debates among sports radio and television. Is it a good thing to have time off to rest, or does it disrupt momentum?
For a team that is on the older side and dealing with injuries like the Bruins, the time off can make all the difference in the world. However, teams that have swept an opponent during the 2018-19 playoffs have gone on to lose in the next round. Take that for what you will.
Anyway, the Bruins should get all of the credit in the world for making it this far in the playoffs and surpassing preseason expectations. B’s general manager Don Sweeney should also be included on the list of folks who performed at a high level this season. Sweeney is actually getting recognized for his efforts as he was named a finalist for the National Hockey League General Manager of the Year.
For starters, who knows what would have happened with the goaltending situation this year if Jaroslav Halak was not brought in to push Tuukka Rask. Halak finished the 2018-19 regular season with 37 starts, a 22-11-4 record, a 2.34 goals against average, and a .922 save percentage. Those numbers coincide with starting goaltenders in the NHL, not so much with backups.
The weight that normally rests on Rask’s shoulders was alleviated some by the performance of Halak. As a result, Rask is playing the best hockey of his career. In the four games against Carolina, Rask stopped 109 of the 114 shots sent his way. Enough said.
The moves that truly make Sweeney look like a genius were the two deals that he executed during the trade deadline back in February. He acquired Charlie Coyle from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Ryan Donato, as well as Marcus Johansson from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for draft picks.
These two guys have solidified the third line and provided the depth scoring that is necessary to hoist the greatest trophy in all of sports. Both Coyle and Johansson have combined for nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points so far this postseason. Who predicted that?
When you add in the fact that the top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak each tallied a goal in Thursday night’s game, it could very well signify that the number one forward trio is clicking at the right time. Capping off the offensive depth at this time of year is necessary to push any team to the limit, especially from the coaching and game-planning side.
Speaking of depth, David Backes is relishing his role on this Bruins team. After 13 long and grueling years in the NHL, Backes will finally achieve his dream of playing in the Stanley Cup Finals. And he is not doing it as a passenger either; he is a valuable contributor (two goals and three assists in 11 games this postseason) and provides the veteran, physical presence that the opposition has trouble handling on occasion.
What it came down to is that the Hurricanes just did not have enough to keep up with the Bruins and they were not ready for the prime time spotlight. For what it is worth, Sean Kuraly led all Bruins centers in ice time (18:16) in Game 4, which is a clear indication of the balance that this team possesses this season. At the same time, it was still the Eastern Conference Finals. It should not have been that easy.
One thing is for certain – San Jose or St. Louis will not be an easy out. The Bruins will have their work cut out for them this time around.
Hockey in June. Get ready.