BOSTON – If the Boston Bruins were portrayed as Superman, then the Carolina Hurricanes have provided the kryptonite.
Behind a 47-save shutout from goaltender Cam Ward the lowly Canes completed the season sweep against the Black and Gold – second in the Eastern Conference – in their 3-0 victory Thursday night at the TD Garden.
“They’re a good team,” said Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, who made 28 saves in the losing effort. “You look at the standings and they’re not where they want to be, but they play some good hockey, especially against us.
“[You] still give them credit playing good. But in the four games we’ve played against them, we haven’t played our best either.”
For Carolina, the 2011-12 season might be a lost cause at this point as they find themselves trailing the eighth place Toronto Maple Leafs by 11 points in the Eastern standings with 29 games left. Although it’s certainly not impossible, the chances of them getting in the playoff race are slim, especially since every team ahead of them have games in hand.
On the other hand, the ‘Canes will certainly take the sweep against the defending champs and keep them from catching the New York Rangers for the top spot in the East.
“I think it’s a credit to the guys when we play like that we’re capable of beating very good teams,” said Ward. “It’s no secret that they’re once again Stanley Cup contenders, and to beat them four times is a huge complement to our team. But we have to play every team like it’s the Boston Bruins, because it seems like they bring out the best in us.”
While the loss was frustrating enough, the Bruins were certainly not on their A-game, despite outshooting Carolina 47-31.
Despite a solid opening 20 minutes — one where they fired 22 shots towards Ward — the Black and Gold’s frustration started when Eric Staal buried a one-timer past Rask for his 12th of the season at 11:51 of the first. That frustration continued to mount with goals from Staal’s linemates Tuomo Ruutu (his 16th at 16:41 of the middle stanza) and Brandon Sutter (his 12th at 3:13 of the third).
That, coupled with a five-shot second period and third period penalties from Milan Lucic (9:39) and Brad Marchand (14:15) — both negating Bruin power plays — kept the Bruins off the schneid.
“Well I thought the first period we did some good things,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “We had some chances and even though they had a 1-0 lead, there was no doubt, I think, they had just one scoring chance, and they made the best of it.
“Second period, again, just like the other night [against Ottawa], that’s the same thing over and over. We go back out there, we got five shots, and again, the focus and the execution that we want is not there, and then you play behind the eight ball going into the third.”
Thursday’s game resembled how the season series coupled the recent stretch of mediocrity have put the Bruins in a midseason slump.
“I don’t want to take anything away from them because they played a hell of a game all four games. They played extremely hard and their goalie worked extremely well,” said Shawn Thornton. “But we didn’t make it easy on ourselves, either. I don’t know if we had everybody going all those games, I think we could have made things a lot tougher on Cam Ward.”
Even with the disparity in the standings, Carolina’s sweep shows the importance of teams bringing their best effort night after night during an 82-game season.
“When you’re the Stanley Cup champs, everyone is ready to play you every night,” said ‘Canes coach Kirk Muller. “Our guys seem to get really excited to play against the Cup champs and it brings out our best game so far.”
“Two things happened when it comes to that stuff, and I’ve been on the other side of it, too,” said Julien. “There are certain teams during certain years that will give you a hard time and they have. They’ve played us well, and they’ve made it hard on us.”