They say that in order to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. The Bruins’ problem this season is that they can’t beat the worst.
The Hurricanes will enter the Garden Thursday night with just 45 points on the season, which puts them dead last in the Eastern Conference, but they’ll also come in having won all three previous meetings against the Bruins this season.
For one reason or another, the Hurricanes have given the Bruins, who are a point out of first place in the conference, fits. Whether it was on Oct. 18, when Nathan Horton  and Milan Lucic  lost their cool on Tim Gleason late in the third period, or in their last meeting, when the B’s blew a third-period lead and saw Carolina score three unanswered goals, the Bruins simply haven’t been up to the challenge against perhaps the least challenging opponent in the East.
“To be honest, I don’t think we’ve played well against them,” Gregory Campbell  said after Wednesday’s practice. “That’s no discredit to them. The first two losses came within a week, and that was probably when we were playing some of our poorest hockey of the season. I thought the last time we were in there, they played an awesome game. They were hard on us, and we weren’t prepared for that. We weren’t prepared to skate, and they were all over us. They basically smothered us, and they deserved to win that game.”
If there’s been one certainty with the Bruins this season, it’s been their dominant third-period play. They have a plus-66 goal differential in the third period this season, but the Hurricanes have even beaten them there. Only three Bruins opponents have outscored them in the third period this season: the Avalanche (who scored their only goal of the game in teams’ lone meeting), the Canadiens (who have scored four goals against the B’s in the third compared to Boston’s three) and the Hurricanes. Of those teams, the Hurricanes have the best third-period differential against the Bruins, as they’ve outscored Boston, 7-4, in the third period when the teams have met this season.
The Hurricanes recently locked up Gleason with a four-year, $16 million deal, meaning perhaps the best defensive option for the trade deadline has been taken off the market. It also means the Hurricanes will remain equipped to continue to bring it to the B’s as they continue to face them.
But for the Bruins and their struggles against the Hurricanes, they aren’t thinking about the opponent. They’re focused on the way they’ve played the opponent, and it hasn’t been up to par.
“I think it’s not really about us focusing on what they’re doing to beat us,” Campbell said. “It’s more so us focusing on brining our game and seeing what that presents.”
If the Bruins can win, perhaps they can use it as a springboard to get them back to where they were prior to their current stretch of sloppy play. The B’s are 4-3-1 in their last eight games, and failed to show up in the first 40 minutes before beating the Senators Tuesday with a third-period comeback.
“Things have slipped. It’s no secret in here,” Campbell said. “Claude [Julien ] has been realistic with us. We’re not playing up to the potential we’re capable of. They’ve done their job. Our job as players is to get back to that, and it’s no secret. We just have to play our game like we did in November and December, and that’s a formula that brings success for us.”
Between their previous inability to beat the conference’s worst team and a desire to get back to the level of play they found during their 21-3-1 stretch, a lot of things can change for the Bruins Thursday night.
Said Campbell: “Good teams find a way to be consistent. That’s our issue right now.”