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RALEIGH, N.C. – Stay home, Cinderella. The fairytale is over.
While the overriding theme during these NHL playoffs might have been about how the lesser lights had punched above their weight and knocked off the likes of the Lightning, the Capitals and other top-seeded teams, it was only a matter of time before the clock struck midnight.
Well, ding-dong, it’s finally happened.
The big, bad Boston Bruins are heading to the Stanley Cup final. And no, a team that finished with the second-most points in the Eastern Conference this year didn’t do it with any help from a fairy godmother – though Tuukka Rask seems to have the hockey gods back on his side these days.
“It’s a good feeling. We’re going to the Stanley Cup final,” said Bruins forward David Krejci, one of five players that were on the championship team in 2011. “It doesn’t get better than that.”
The Eastern Conference final, which ended in a quick-and-tidy four-game sweep after the Bruins won a decisive Game 4 by a score of 4-0, was a wake-up call for the Carolina Hurricanes. Heck, it was a wake-up call for the rest of the league.
This Boston team is built to win. There are no holes. No weaknesses. Even without Zdeno Chara and fourth-line forward Chris Wagner out of the lineup with injuries on Thursday, the Hurricanes were no match for the Bruins.
Of course, much of that was because of Rask and the fact that Boston’s top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak finally woke up and combined for all four goals in Game 4.
“The big line was there,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “I did sense it, because they weren’t very good in Game 3. It’s three elite players.”
Carolina had no chance. What had worked against the Capitals and New York Islanders in previous rounds was no use against a team as stacked as Boston. The Hurricanes simply were not talented enough or deep enough or mentally strong enough to give the Bruins any kind of competition.
Once the Bruins came from behind to win Game 1, they smelled blood in the water. And in the following three games, they feasted on an opponent that really couldn’t do anything to make this a series.
That’s not a knock against the Hurricanes, who have to be proud with how they not only used a second-half surge to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in nine years, but also reached the conference final for the first time since 2009. But rather, it’s a reflection of just how good the Bruins are.
This is a team that has gotten better with each successive round. After needing a Game 7 to dispose of the Maple Leafs and then taking out the Blue Jackets in the second round, the Bruins were far more efficient in the Eastern Conference final.
That’s not good news for either the San Jose Sharks (who lead the Western Conference final 2-1) or the St. Louis Blues.
“Boston played great,” said Hurricanes captain Justin Williams, who had one goal and no assists in the series. “They’re going to be tough to beat in the final.”
The way that the Bruins are playing is downright scary. They have now won seven straight games. They are getting offence from all four lines, are scoring at will on the power play, and have a goalie in Rask who would win the Conn Smythe Trophy if the playoffs ended today.
“We’ve earned the right to go to the Stanley Cup final,” said Cassidy. “We’ve beaten three good teams.”
Rask, who allowed just five goals in four games against the Hurricanes, turned in yet another gem in Game 4, stopping all 24 shots he faced for his second shutout of the playoffs. But it was the top line that really came alive on Thursday.
Heading into Game 4, Boston’s big guns had combined for only two goals and six points. On Thursday night, they combined for four goals and eight points.
Bergeron scored twice and had an assist, Pastrnak had a goal and two assists, while Marchand had a goal and an assist.
“That top line’s good,” said Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal. “They find ways to get chances.”
After a scoreless first period, Boston’s No. 1 ranked power play went to work after Carolina was called for too-many-men on the ice, followed by a goalie interference penalty on Greg McKegg. For the Hurricanes, who had given up five power play goals on 12 attempts in the previous three games, it was the equivalent of playing with fire.
And once again, they got burned.
Pastrnak and Marchand played give-and-go with the puck, with Marchand faking a shot and finding Pastrnak with a no-look pass to make it 1-0 at 4:46 in the second period. With the period coming to an end, Bergeron scored the Bruins’ 17th power play goal of the post-season – and their seventh of the series – on a give-and-go with Pastrnak.
“That was a big part of the series,” Brind’Amour said of the special teams battle. “Teams like this that are so talented, the errors you make end up in your net. I’d say 90% of the league doesn’t make those passes.”
In the third period, Bergeron finally scored his first even-strength goal of the series on a play where he induced a defensive-zone turnover and then converted on a slick back-door pass from Pastrnak.
That sealed it. Then again, this one-sided series had been over long before then.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019