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Reeling Bruins must find answers fast

by Shawn P. Roarke
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Boston Bruins don't know what has happened to their team, to their dream of making it to the Stanley Cup Final. But they do know that without a drastic change of fortunes, their season could end prematurely with a loss in Monday's Game 5 of this unpredictable Eastern Conference Semifinal against the upstart Carolina Hurricanes.

The potential end of the season -- brought upon by a decisive 4-1 loss Friday night to the 'Canes in Game 4 at the RBC Center -- is a sobering reality that Boston had no intentions of entertaining this early in their playoff march.

After all, not only are they the Eastern Conference's regular-season champions, but they opened the playoffs with five-straight wins. Somehow, though, the Cardiac 'Canes have figured out the Bruins, using team speed to expose some chinks in Boston's armor.

"I think our team has probably picked the worst time of the year to play their worst hockey and that's what is happening right now," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "I think when you look at the whole team, there isn't anybody that has played up to their potential. We're not in synch.

"You can see the frustration on the players right now and it's getting worse."

You didn't have to look too hard in the cramped Bruins' dressing room to see long faces and furrowed brows. In one corner, goalie Tim Thomas struggled for words to describe the disenfranchisement he feels.

"We're trying, but there (are) different types of effort," said Thomas, who has given up seven goals in the past two games. "There is the effort that Carolina has right now where everything feels good and it's just easy for them. They feel like they are on top of the world; they are on a roll.

"Then there is us, who are trying to create something. We're putting in the effort, but it is not the same feeling."

No, the feeling in the Boston room is one of despair, a feeling Carolina knew all too well after Game 1 of this series, a 4-1 victory by this same Bruin team, one that has only scored three goals since its Game 1 outburst.

"We have to go home and figure it out," said captain Zdeno Chara, who is minus-4 in the past two games. "Obviously, we are in a deep hole. We all realize that. You have to win four games to get to next round and it isn't over yet."

That has to be the rallying cry now for the Bruins; they have to cling to the truism that they are not dead until the Hurricanes celebrate that fourth win. If Boston can win Sunday, it forces a Game 6 back in Carolina on Tuesday. Win that and say hello to a winner-take-all Game 7 back in Boston.

The Bruins followed that formula in last year's first round, falling behind three games to one against top-seeded Montreal before forcing a Game 7 that the Bruins could not win. Carolina, meanwhile, was up three games to one against Edmonton in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final, but needed a Game 7 to finally finish off the Oilers.

So it can be done. But is this clearly demoralized team -- which has no answers for the questions Carolina has raised in the past three outings -- one that can do the near-impossible?

"Obviously we have to regroup," Thomas said. "We've got to be realistic and, in being realistic, there is also knowing you can do it. You can win three games in a row. How many times in a season do you do it?

"We still have a chance. It's 15 minutes after the game, so I can't tell you how we are going to do it, but we are going to try."

Julien also doesn't know how his team will wiggle out of this hole, but he hopes to find an answer before the puck drops Sunday night at the TD Banknorth Center.

"This is something that needs to be resolved before next game and we don't have much time to do that," Julien said.

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