BOSTON (AP) Less than 12 hours after returning home in the dead of night, the Bruins were on the ice Saturday, skating hard and searching for the style that made them the Eastern Conference’s top seed.
No time for rest now.
If the Bruins don’t figure it out soon, they will have plenty of time to relax. Boston has dropped three straight to the Carolina Hurricanes and will be facing elimination from the Eastern Conference semifinal series on Sunday night in Game 5.
Boston dominated the opener at home 4-1 then lost the next three by a combined score of 10-3. Friday night’s 4-1 loss at Carolina gave the Hurricanes a commanding edge. The Hurricanes need only one more win – with three chances in front of them – to advance to the conference finals.
“You’ve got to be frustrated. If not, you don’t care,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said after the hour-long practice. Players are “probably angry at themselves for the way they’ve played so far.
“We have to play our game because right now that’s what’s costing us.”
The Bruins must play the way they did in winning their first five games of the playoffs – beat the opponent to the puck, win battles in the corners and put more shots on net. They had only 20 in Game 4 against goalie Cam Ward.
The Bruins were 4-0 against the Hurricanes in the regular season, but plenty has changed. Carolina benefited from the acquisition of Jussi Jokinen and Erik Cole and was 17-5-2 in its final 24 regular-season games.
“We knew they were going to come out hard and play hard,” Boston forward Milan Lucic said of the sixth-seeded Hurricanes. “We knew they were a different team than what we faced in the season.”
The Hurricanes obtained Jokinen on Feb. 7 after he had scored six goals all season for Tampa Bay. He netted the go-ahead goal in the previous two playoff games and has six in the postseason.
“We played to our strengths” Friday night, Jokinen said, “moving the puck well, skating well, keeping the game simple.”
Even if they lose Sunday, the Hurricanes will have a shot at winning the series at home on Tuesday. Carolina coach Paul Maurice doesn’t think there will be a letdown in Boston.
“I certainly wouldn’t expect it,” he said. “I didn’t see it in our eyes, in our conversations. I would suggest that the percentages of a 3-1 team are usually the higher-seeded team (being ahead). Maybe those teams realize or feel that they can turn it on and off.”
That might have happened last year when top-seeded Montreal won three of the first four games over eighth-seeded Boston in the opening round. Then the Bruins won the next two games before the Canadiens prevailed in Game 7.
A lesson, perhaps, for the current Bruins?
“It lets you know that it can be done and that the series isn’t over yet,” goalie Tim Thomas said. “It also teaches you if you can get the first one, then who knows?”
But the Bruins have lost all 21 series in which they’ve trailed 3-1. And Carolina advanced in both series it led 3-1.
“It’s been quite a ride the last three months and especially in the playoffs,” Jokinen said. “But I’m not satisfied with it and how things are right now.”
A strong start Sunday would improve the confidence that several Bruins said needs a boost. But they need much more. The Hurricanes have skated faster and stationed more players in front of their net to keep pucks from getting to Ward.
“The biggest thing is you really have to look at (Sunday’s) game as the only obstacle you have to overcome,” Julien said. “That’s the only thing you should be thinking of.”
Still, the Bruins must find a way to recover quickly from a first period that was one of their worst 20-minute stretches of the season and a game in which they were soundly beaten.
They did make a speedy turnaround after squandering a 2-0 lead in the third period of a 3-2 overtime loss to Los Angeles on March 19. In their next game, they beat New Jersey 4-1, starting a season-ending 8-2 run.
“That (loss) really crushed us, and we came back against Jersey the next game and looked like a totally different team,” Julien said. “So you’ve got to hope that your team is able to make that drastic change in one game and come back and play the way we know we can.
“This is reality and there’s no sugarcoating it.”