WILMINGTON, Mass. – The Boston Bruins have had eight days off since sweeping Montreal out of the first round, giving them a chance to hang out and heal while the Carolina Hurricanes were engaged in a seven-game struggle with New Jersey.
So, what will it be for the Bruins: Rest or rust?
“There’s pros and cons in both. They may not have had a chance to rest, but they’re in a groove,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said Thursday after the Bruins practised for Game 1 of their second round series against Carolina. “This is the card that we’ve been dealt, and this is the opportunity we earned: To get our players back to 100 per cent. Let’s take advantage of it.”
The Bruins and Hurricanes last met in the playoffs in 1999, when Boston won in six games. But since then the teams have gone in different directions.
The Bruins didn’t win a playoff series for a decade before finishing off the Canadiens on April 22. Carolina reached the Stanley Cup finals in 2002, losing to Detroit in five games, then the former Hartford Whalers made it back in ’06 to claim the Cup for the first time in franchise history.
The Hurricanes missed the playoffs for two straight years after winning it all – the only team in modern NHL history to do that – and they were 12-11-2 this year before firing coach Peter Laviolette on Dec. 3. He was replaced by Paul Maurice, who became the winningest coach in franchise history when he presided over the move from Hartford and led the Hurricanes to the 2002 finals.
Under Maurice, Carolina went 33-19-5, winning nine straight down the stretch and 17 out of 22. In the first round, the Hurricanes rallied from a 3-2 deficit in the best-of-seven series and scored twice in the final 80 seconds of Game 7 to eliminate the Devils.
“The expectations have risen, and we’ve got guys that have won Stanley Cups here,” Maurice said. “That’s how they think.”
One of them is goalie Cam Ward, who allowed 15 goals in the seven-game series against New Jersey.
“What drives you is trying to get to that Stanley Cup final,” said goalie Cam Ward, part of a core that remains from the ’05-06 team. “This is another step that we have to take, and it’s not going to be easy. We’re talking about one of the best teams in the regular season, and there’s no question that they’re going to be ready for us.”
Bruins defenceman Aaron Ward and forward Mark Recchi also won the Cup with the Hurricanes. Ward remembered the way Carolina fell in love with that team, but he knows that the Bruins fans’ have been there, waiting since Bobby Orr skated with the Cup twice in the early 1970s.
“You always want to win, but 1972’s been a long time coming,” Ward said. “We have some die-hard fans, but they’ve been in hibernation for a long time. They’ve been waiting for an opportunity to rally around the team. Hopefully we’ll give them that opportunity.”
The Bruins have been waiting, too.
Boston dominated Carolina in four regular-season matchups, outscoring the Canes 18-6. But that was before the Hurricanes reacquired Erik Cole at the March 4 trading deadline. The No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and the top-remaining seed overall in the NHL, Boston cruised through the first-round matchup against Montreal.
Julien gave the players a couple of days off to rest, then scheduled a scrimmage to help them get back into game shape. They didn’t know who their second-round opponent would be until Tuesday night – it could have been three different teams.
Now that they know, they promise to be ready.
“There’s some new life in our room, and excitement,” Julien said. “Now it’s time to do our job and produce.”