Canes face even tougher test in second round
Posted April 29, 2009
After another routine win over the Devils, and by routine I mean the typical heart-wrenching, soul crushing, punch to the solar plexus that the Canes usually hand the Devils this time of year, it’s time to look ahead to Carolina’s next challenge, the Boston Bruins.
You couldn’t blame the Canes for taking a few hours at least to bask in the historic series they just pulled off against New Jersey, but they’ll be the first to say that they need to put the win behind them as soon as possible and prepare for the next round.
That’s a good mentality to have, because the boys from Beantown are good – very good.
Much like the Devils, the Eastern Conference’s number one seed is anchored by one of the best netminders in the game – Tim Thomas.
Thomas, a finalist for this season’s Vezina Trophy, an award given annually to the league’s best goaltender, has been filthy this year. With 36 wins, a GAA just over two and a save percentage well above the 90 percent mark, the 35-year-old has quickly gone from late-bloomer to franchise player in a matter of a few seasons.
It doesn't hurt the fourth-year goalie to have one of the NHL’s best defenseman, Zdeno Chara, helping to clear the ice in front of him. Listed at 6-foot-9 and 261 pounds, and that’s without skates on, Chara is an absolute force. His long reach means you have to skate an extra country mile just to get around him, and his sheer size and strength eliminates almost any possibility of employing a power game.
Unfortunately for opponents, the native of Czechoslovakia isn’t just hockey’s version of Lurch. Chara’s offensive game has come on this season to the tune of 19 goals and 50 points, making him one of the best all around blue-liners in the league, and a worthy finalist of the Norris Trophy, presented to the game’s best defenseman.
Clearly, goals will not be easy to come by for Paul Maurice’s team in the next two weeks, and they won’t be easy to prevent either.
The Bruins boast a balanced scoring attack that saw 10 players, including two defensemen, reach the 40 point mark during the regular season (Marc Savard led the franchise with 88). Carolina, by comparison, only had six skaters tally 40 points, and none played on the back line.
Eight players scored 17 or more goals for Boston, led by right wing Phil Kessel with 36, while only five did for the Canes.
Plain and simple, there is a reason why Boston finished with the conference’s best record in the regular season, and why it’s resting after sweeping it’s first-round opponent, the Montreal Canadiens – the team is talented, well-coached, and confident in its abilities.
That’s the bad news.
The good news for the Canes, is that there might not be a hotter team in the NHL right now – and there definitely isn’t one with the aura that Carolina seems to possess.
It has to be a little weird sitting in the Boston locker room at this moment, wondering if a higher power isn’t at work here after seeing the Canes win two separate games against the winningest goalie of all-time in historic fashion.
Add to that the fact that Cam Ward is on fire, and the new line of Eric Staal, Ray Whitney and Chad LaRose is clicking as well as any in the league, and suddenly the Canes aren’t looking like such underdogs.
The Bruins dominated the season series between these two clubs, winning all four of the meetings in regulation by a combined score of 18-6. But, if ever there was a time where the cliché “throw the records out” was true, this would be it.
These teams haven’t met since the middle of February, and Carolina is a much more polished product than it was 10 weeks ago.
Since that 5-1 loss on February 17, Carolina won 17 games and dropped only seven, making it one of the scariest clubs in the league heading into the postseason.
Starting Friday night, it'll be the rested Bruins against the battle-tested Canes.
One thing is for sure - with Carolina in the hunt, both teams will be playing until the final buzzer sounds.