Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor
BOSTON -- So far, nothing has been able to derail Boston's Stanley Cup Playoff express.
The Montreal Canadiens and their decades-long hex on the Bruins weren't enough in Round 1. Now, the supposedly deadly duo of too much rest and too much mojo -- Carolina has been dubbed this playoff's Cinderella story after their first-round escape -- were supposed to slow down the East's top seed in Friday's Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
It didn't happen. Boston blew away the Hurricanes in a dominating 4-1 victory in Game 1 at TD Banknorth Garden. It was the Bruins' fifth-straight victory to open the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- and in those five games, Boston has outscored its opposition 21-7.
How did Boston overcome its nine-day layoff afforded by the sweep of the Canadiens in the first round and subdue a Carolina team that scored two goals in the final 80 seconds of Game 7 against New Jersey on Tuesday night to win 4-3 and author one of the most amazing comebacks in NHL history?
The Bruins simply played the hockey that delivered them to the top of the Eastern Conference and left them just one point shy of winning the Presidents' Trophy as the League's best team.
They rolled four lines, played a disciplined game, got solid goaltending from Tim Thomas (26 saves) and defended across all three zones, forcing Carolina to make mistakes with the puck.
"We're playing pretty solid defensively and that is what helps us offensively," forward Michael Ryder said. "We create turnovers in the neutral zone and we take advantage of it. That is one of our strengths in the neutral zone and tonight we tried to clog up the neutral zone and force turnovers.
Ryder's goal, which gave the Bruins a 3-1 lead, was a perfect example of that philosophy. Carolina's Tuomo Ruutu was trying to clear his zone, but he made an ill-advised pass that Ryder intercepted at the red line and turned into a goal seconds later, rifling a shot that found a crease between the crossbar and Cam Ward's left shoulder.
"We did things we talked about not doing, which is turning pucks over and not getting them deep," Carolina center Eric Staal said.
What was left unsaid in that sentence was that the Bruins forced Carolina into many of it mistakes -- just as it forced Montreal into countless mistakes in the first round -- by playing a patient, methodical game.
"It's turnovers created because our back pressure is great," Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward said. "It's easy to pick off pucks because we have three forwards busting their (butts) towards the defenseman and (our) defensemen are holding the gaps, so there is limited space to pass."
Ward, a member of the 2006 Carolina team that won the franchise's only Stanley Cup, had the primary assist on the game-opening goal, off Boston's first attack just 1:34 into the game. David Krejci tipped the shot past Cam Ward for a 1-0 lead.
After Jussi Jokinen -- who scored the tying goal against New Jersey to set up Staal's game-winning heroics -- tied the game at 1-1 with just 70 seconds left in the first period, Boston's top line took over the game as Marc Savard scored both the game-winning and the game-ending goals. Phil Kessel had assists on both.
Again, though, Ward says it is not a case of individuals taking over the game through sheer talent, but rather Boston's patient -- some might say methodical -- game plan wearing down an opponent's resistance.
"It's the consistent play of successive lines," Ward said. "If one line gets momentum going, it's not one individual player. Getting two or three lines flowing together and getting that consistent pressure in the offensive zone, getting them running around a little bit, implementing what we want to do in their end gives us an opportunity to win and build that confidence."
While the Bruins are busy making other teams run around, they refuse to fall into that trap themselves. Boston gave Carolina just one power play Friday night, and that came late in the third period when the score was already 4-1. In five playoff games, the Bruins have allowed just nine power-play opportunities and have yet to give up a goal while playing shorthanded.
"Any time you are in the playoffs, you look around and you see the teams that are winning hockey teams and teams that are successful, they're successful on the power play and we feel that with our team it is important to play a physical game, but is also important to stay out of the penalty box," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "Every game we make it a challenge to be a very disciplined team. They have made a commitment to stay out of the penalty box and, as we speak right now, they have done a good job."
A good enough job at being disciplined and also at every other facet of their game that the Bruins had no problem taming the deadly duo of their own rust and Carolina's magic.
Boston forward Michael Ryder has topped 25 goals in four of his first five seasons, so it is not surprising that few talk about his defense. Yet, it was his defensive play in the second period that turned the tide of the game. With the score 2-1, Ryder picked off an ill-advised cross-ice pass by Tuomo Ruutu just outside the Carolina blue line. A few strides later, he lifted a laser beam over Cam Ward's shoulder, and under the crossbar, to give Boston a 3-1 lead.
Boston defenseman Andrew Ference was making his playoff debut Friday night after being out since April 4 with a lower-body injury. But it was hard to tell he had missed the past eight games from his performance in Game 1. He played more than 20 minutes, including some shorthanded time when Zdeno Chara was in the box late in the third. Ference had one shot, one hit and one blocked shot.
The Bruins continue to play disciplined hockey this postseason. Boston only gave Carolina one power play in Game 1, and that was after establishing a commanding 4-1 lead. Boston has allowed just nine power plays in five games and has yet to give up a man-advantage goal.
This season, Boston is now 30-2-5 when David Krejci scores a point in a game. Krejci had the first goal Friday.
Carolina goalie Cam Ward, just 25, has played more playoff games than any other goalie in franchise history. Ward appeared Friday in playoff game No. 31, breaking a record he had previously shared with Arturs Irbe, who made 30 appearances.