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The key to Game 3 is crashing Carolina’s net party

WILMINGTON — There has been enough idle chatter about neutral zone puck play, impressive fourth line performances and sloppy tendencies over the last few days to sink a hockey battleship, so let’s get to the crux of the matter against these playoff-worthy Hurricanes [1].

All of factors above were certainly present during Boston’s Game 2 loss at the hands of the mighty Tropical Storms, but there’s a limit to the sloppiness factor when a team is able to squeeze off 36 shots and limit the opposition to 25 shots on goal. The Bruins were able to retain possession of the puck and level an adequate numbers of outside attempts on the Carolina cage, but there was one vital playoff ingredient they were sorely lacking on Sunday night: a determined and consistent net front presence.

They call it “paying the price” for a reason, and the B’s just weren’t willing to do that against the Canes last weekend, plain and simple.

“To me, it’s a mindset,” said B’s coach Claude Julien [2]. “You come into the game and ‘How much do you want to put into it?’ Maybe we weren’t ready to put as much into as we should have. We were just okay, and we can’t just be okay. We’ve got to be better and we’ve got to be more determined than we were in our last two outings actually.

“We have to be better to make (Cam Ward [3]) not look so good,” added Julien. “We can do a better job in that regard.”

The Hurricanes netminder is a playoff-proven performer perfectly capable of stealing a game and stopping pucks while tracking them without pesky body traffic churning and jostling in front of him. The Canes, on the other hand, screened and confused the B’s defense to the point that Tim Thomas [4] didn’t get a clear look at either of the shots that Carolina scored with prior to the third period Eric Staal empty-netter.

So the rallying cry from these Bruins on the day before Game 3 was much less about unkempt puck possession or slovenly breakouts, but instead much more about the desire and bravery needed to plop down in the Danger Zone made famous by the one and only Kenny Loggins. The Bruins need more willing and able body traffic in front of the Hurricanes net, and Ward needs to be made a great deal more uncomfortable than he was in making 36 saves — some of them of the rocking chair variety and some of them beauties — during Game 2.

The Bruins need to take Ward’s aggressive style — and his tendency to move out of the blue painted area to cut off shooting angles against him — and turn it around against the 25-year-old with forwards ready to pounce on loose puck morsels and juicy rebounds near the net. It’s the best way to beat a goaltender of Ward’s caliber in a high-stakes playoff stare down.

It’s also a huge key to a Black and Gold resurgence in Game 3 along the sometimes unforgiving Tobacco Road.

“One of the things that you’ll see (Wednesday night) and that we’ve seen in the first two games is that (Ward) loves to get outside his blue paint and face the shot,” said B’s defenseman Aaron Ward [5]. “One thing that we didn’t do is impede his progress. If you have a guy that’s standing in front of him, even if it’s outside that area, he’s got to find another way around.

“He’s quite a gifted goalie when he gets an opportunity to see the puck, like most of the goalies in the league,” added Ward. “This isn’t an announcement like ‘Hey, here we come.’ It’s not that. We did not take care of the simple facts of the game (in Game 2) and that’s getting a guy to the front of the net.”

Players like that mix skill and grit into a single hockey package like Mark Recchi [6], Chuck Kobasew [7] or Milan Lucic [8] are the most likely candidates to plop themselves right by Ward’s side. But the plan will require anyone and everyone on the Bruins roster to show some willingness when it comes to crashing Carolina’s party.

If the Bruins can accomplish that task then they’ll have traveled far down the road toward victory. But if they fail then it’s entirely possible Boston could be looking at another goaltending showcase like the one Ward put on during his Game 2 shutout — the fourth blanking in a highly success NHL [9] playoff career that hasn’t seen him ever lose a playoff series.

‘€¢Chuck Kobasew didn’t participate in Tuesday morning practice due to a flu bug that’s passed through the Bruins dressing room over the last two weeks, but Julien said that he’s a certainty to play in Wednesday night’s Game 3 in Raleigh. Byron Bitz took Kobasew’s place on the third line with Patrice Bergeron [10] and Recchi during Tuesday morning’s practice.

“He had a bout of the flu last night, so we kept him off the ice today,” said Julien. “He’ll be on (the ice) tomorrow night for sure. There will be no issues there.”

‘€¢Injured skaters Marco Sturm [11] (knee surgery) and Matt Hunwick (ruptured spleen) skated with the Bruins Strength and Conditioning Coach John Whitesides prior to practice — the first twirl on the ice for both since suffering their respective injuries. Both players were scheduled to fly down to Raleigh with the team on Tuesday afternoon, and take in Games 3 and 4 at the RBC Center.

“They skated on (ice) for the first time today,” said Julien. “We’re just going to monitor them as they go along. There’s no timetable for them as far as their return is concerned. We’re just giving them a chance to skate. I think that was Marco’s first time on in four or five months. It’s great. They’re a part of our team and we want them around with us.”