-- The hunted for so long, the Boston Bruins
have suddenly become the hunters and their prey is becoming more elusive -- and more brazen -- by the minute.
With Wednesday night's 3-2 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes
in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at the RBC Center, Boston trails for the first time this postseason. The Bruins are looking up at -- and desperate to catch -- a conference opponent for the first time since the New Year.
The Bruins trail this best-of-7 series 2-1 and now face a must-win situation in Friday night's Game 4 (7:30 pm ET, Versus, TSN), which would send the series back to Boston tied at two games each.
This was not the way things were supposed to turn out after Boston won its first five games of the postseason, including a 4-1 shellacking of Carolina in Game 1. But there is no denying that Boston has been the second-best team to the Hurricanes in each of the past two games.
As a result, the Bruins face their first crisis of confidence this spring. How they react will determine the legacy of the Eastern Conference's best regular-season team. It's a sobering fact for a team that has known nothing but success for so long.
"It was real already, but it's time now; the reality is our backs are against the wall right now," said goalie Tim Thomas
, who made 38 saves but was helpless to stop a rebound conversion by Jussi Jokinen
just 2:48 into the extra session.
The fact that Boston even forced overtime was considered miraculous by many, including coach Claude Julien
. Boston was out-shot 41-23 in the game and the 'Canes carried play for long stretches.
"I think this was one of those periods where I saw the most turnovers and the most plays that we made that we don't normally make," Julien said. "You've got to give credit to the other team; they played extremely well and extremely hard.
"But we certainly didn't give them good opposition tonight. We certainly didn't give them too much resistance. (Wednesday), unfortunately, we didn't really deserve this game the way we played."
So, how can the Bruins respond in the next 48 hours to once again establish themselves as the superior team, the team that finished 19 points ahead of its opposition in the regular season?
Work harder, and more efficiently, says Thomas.
"Where we normally make the smart play and get it out of the zone, we tried to do too much in certain ways and then at other times we weren't doing enough," Thomas said.
"You've got to give credit to the other team; they played extremely well and extremely hard. But we certainly didn't give them good opposition tonight. We certainly didn't give them too much resistance." -- Claude Julien
Thomas and many of the Bruins believe that if they can match Carolina's work ethic and play just a tad more under control, their team's talent will once again take over this series.
“The hunger is there, don't get me wrong," Thomas said. "We have hunger, too. But they are just doing the things that give them success better than we are."
Boston's task becomes even harder if defenseman Andrew Ference
can't return to the lineup for Game 4. Ference, who missed the first-round series with a lower-body injury, did not return for the Bruins after the second intermission Wednesday night. If Ference can't go, Shane Hnidy
will be inserted back into the lineup. He played the final three games of the Montreal series.
"Losing a quality defenseman like Andy certainly didn't help our cause," Julien admitted.
For Carolina, there is no sense that it is out of the woods with just a 2-1 lead. In the last round, Carolina came back from one-game deficits three times to force a Game 7 against New Jersey, a game that it won in stunning fashion.
Carolina coach Paul Maurice
knows that the margin is razor thin for his club. The Hurricanes have won six of 10 postseason games, but has outscored the opposition by just three goals, 24-21.
"We played well tonight and we are going to have to play like that every game," Maurice said. "If we play like that, we may get to OT. That is how tight this is. At our best, we are not coming out and blowing anybody's doors off and there is nothing wrong with that in playoffs.
"You have to be comfortable in the fight, in the grind and in the tie games."
So far, at least, in this series, Carolina has shown more of an affinity for those things.
Contact Shawn P. Roarke at email@example.com