Keys to a Game 6 victory for the Bruins
|05.12.09 at 2:28 pm ET|
RALEIGH, N.C. — There are obviously intriguing player matchups and clear strengths and weaknesses to each of the seven elite NHL hockey teams still alive during the postseason, but a great deal of any best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series comes down to momentum and pressure.
Which team is riding high on the momentum wave, and which team is slowly crumbling under the pressure?
The Carolina Hurricanes clearly rode a tsunami-like blast of momentum to a 3-1 lead in the series and utilized quick D-to-D passing and a strangling forecheck as something of a Shock and Awe attack on a sleepy Bruins outfit. The Hurricanes stifled, confused and obstructed a frustrated Bruins team that clearly didn’t respect the Canes after blowing them out in Game 1 of the series.
But after the B’s woke up out of hibernation ‘ something that Mark Recchi admitted during the team’s last disastrous trip through Carolina for Games 3 and 4 last week ‘ the real Black and Gold team took a big step forward on Sunday night. The Boston defenseman suddenly remembered that part of their job is to move the puck up the ice with speed and good decision-making, and the forwards remembered to provide back pressure while taking care of all of the little details needed to slow down a Carolina team with far greater team speed along the blueline than the Bruins.
The win captured back some confidence and tossed a little bit of pressure on a Hurricanes team that’s been playing pressure-free as the underdog throughout their current playoff run. The pressure dial just got turned up on the Canes, who need to win a pivotal Tuesday night Game 6 at the friendly RBC Center to avoid a Game 7 scenario at the TD Banknorth Garden that this Southern Fried hockey team is absolutely hoping to avoid.
Here are a few key things that the Bruins will need to do to skate straight into the eye of the Hurricanes and bring this series back to Boston for the best setting in all of pro sports: a Game 7 in a Stanley Cup playoff series.
1) Keep reminding the Bruins defenseman that they need to be playmakers
The Bruins definitely have a weak link in their chain and other hockey teams have seen it and taken note of it in this matchup with a quick Carolina Hurricanes unit. Without the puck-moving services of Matt Hunwick and Andrew Ference, the Bruins have a serious lack of speed and creativity within their blueline corps when they get past the top three of Zdeno Chara, Dennis Wideman and Aaron Ward.
The Black and Gold were thin along the blueline to begin with headed into the postseason, and injuries have depleted a unit that now has good-natured journeyman like Shane Hnidy and Steve Montador both skating in roles over their head.
Even among those three, Wideman is the only blueliner to really be considered a consistent playmaker capable of burning an overaggressive group of forwards hell-bent on hemming Boston into their own zone.
So, they are suddenly susceptible to forecheck pressure after being seemingly impervious to it during the regular season. The one key here is A) reminding Chara that he’s more than just a defensive stopper for Eric Staal and Co. and b) cajoling the whole team into aggressively bringing the puck up the ice in a North/South style.
The belief among many is that Chara got so preoccupied with neutralizing Staal in the middle games of the series that he forgot about his responsibility as an offensive force for the Bruins ‘ and played a passive offensive game while concentrating on his defensive responsibilities. That all changed in Game 5 when he intimidated and defended, AND pushed the puck up the ice and assisted on a pair of big goals early in the contest.
Wideman also became more aggressive and determined to lug the puck into the offensive zone with speed ‘ even if it meant a one-man rush up the ice past Carolina forecheckers and through their layered neutral zone ‘D’ ‘ and that meant cleaner puck possession in the offensive zone.
When people look back at the pitiful shot on goals numbers in the two losses to Carolina in the middle of the series, the defenseman corps is going to take the brunt of the criticism for failing to get out of their own way. They must make sure that doesn’t happen again at the RBC Center.
2) Keep playing the physical game
The Canes foolishly responded to Boston’s physicality and intimidation game in Game 5 at the Boston Garden, and it showed an alarming lack of composure for a team that would still have a 3-2 lead in the series after the loss in Boston.
The Bruins need to keep up the hard-hitting and punishment factor, but they need to do it in the intelligent way that was a hallmark of the Game 5 win. The B’s don’t need players like Phil Kessel and David Krejci to all of a sudden play the tough guy intimidation game. They simply have to make plays in the offensive zone, forecheck with zeal and speed and make sure that the Bruins have 30 or more shots on Cam Ward when it’s all said and done at the end of Game 6.
Meanwhile, Milan Lucic needs to play with the same ‘my pants are on fire’ reckless abandon that breathed life back into the Black and Gold in the last six minutes of Sunday night’s first period. Big Looch inspires and energizes his teammates when he’s running around the ice like a crazed berserker blasting everything that skates in the enemy jersey, and the 20-year-old needs to be that player in Game 6 and beyond.
The Carolina D has had much too easy of a team working in their own end and skating out of the offensive zone with speed and unfettered confidence. After Lucic plastered Seidenberg against the Garden boards, the Carolina D began to look around and put their heads on a swivel looking for more Bruins punishment.
Lucic and the B’s need to get that Carolina ‘D’ peeking and looking around for them again for their hard-charging forecheck just as they did in Game 5 at the rocking Garden.
3) Ride out the initial 10-minute wave
The Hurricanes will probably pull out all the stops tonight, and that should include having Nature Boy Ric Flair cranking out the Hurricane siren prior to the drop of the puck at the raucous and riotous RBC Center to pump up the southern fried hockey fans. The crowd is going to be into it, and it’s a sure bet that Eric Staal, Ray Whitney, Erik Cole and Co. are going to hit the Bruins with everything they have in the first 10-15 minutes of the game and run them out of the building.
It’s no different than the strategy when playing the road playoff games at the Bell Centre before the frenzied Habs fans, with the only difference being that the Hurricanes are a legit hockey club rather than a playoff wannabe. The Bruins have to ride out that first initial haymaker thrown by Carolina and get out of the first period with an even score or down by only one goal.
People seem to forget that during both of the away losses, the Bruins actually pushed the Canes to overtime in Game 3 and were in a 1-1 game going into the third period of Game 4. The B’s were in both games all the way ‘ until a complete collapse like a tumbled set of Jenga pieces in the third period of Game 4 ‘ while they were playing some of their worst hockey of the season.
If the Bruins are anything close to the team that showed at the TD Banknorth Garden for Game 5, they’ll weather the Hurricanes’ storm and push this series to a Game 7 in Boston on Thursday night.
The Game 7 at an angry TD Banknorth Garden is exactly what Carolina is hoping to avoid, and it why you’ll see the pressure on the faces of the formerly carefree Canes faces for the first time on Tuesday night. They’ve been the underdogs free of expectation prior to Game 6, but they need to avoid entering the belly of the B’s beast in Boston for Game 7.