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Bruins tied to TVs as their playoff opponent was decided for next round

WILMINGTON, Mass. - Tim Thomas kept pushing the remote control, switching between games that would determine Boston's next playoff opponent.

Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers. Click. New Jersey Devils vs. Carolina Hurricanes. Click. Click. Click.

When those games were done Tuesday night, he and his Bruins teammate finally had their answer. The top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference will play the sixth-seeded Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference semifinals starting Friday night in Boston.

And only because the Hurricanes scored twice in the final 80 seconds of Game 7 to win in the Devils' building, 4-3.

"I was watching mostly the Capitals-Rangers because it was in HD, and flicking back to New Jersey," Thomas said Wednesday. "You needed to stay up til the end of the games to find out who you were going to play, obviously right to the end."

Boston would have played the Rangers if they had beaten the Capitals. The opponent would have been the Pittsburgh Penguins if both the Rangers and Hurricanes had lost.

While Bruins coach Claude Julien, no doubt, was doing a mental scouting report of the Penguins, the Hurricanes pulled off the stunning comeback.

"That," Julien said, "makes you go 'wow.' "

Carolina had struck late before. They won Game 4 against New Jersey 4-3 on Jussi Jokinen's goal with two-tenths of a second left.

"It seems like karma or fate" is on the side of a team that does that, Thomas said. "So I thought there was a legitimate chance that we could play Carolina. I thought, actually, the least chance we would have was that we would play Pittsburgh.

"It turns out I was right, but only by a minute and a half."

The Bruins had gone six days without a game - or a second-round opponent - since completing a sweep of the Montreal Canadiens on April 22.

Finally learning the their next opponent brought a spark to Wednesday's practice.

"Once the guys came in the dressing room this morning they were excited," Julien said. "At practice, there was a lot more jump, a lot more life."

Boston last won the Stanley Cup in 1972. The Hurricanes won it in 2006 when current Bruins Mark Recchi and Aaron Ward were on the team.

Recchi knows some of his friends will hit him hard trying to dislodge him from in front of the net. And he'll hit back.

"We'll still have those memories from '06. That's never going to change," he said, "but we're both chasing the same thing again."

The Bruins don't put much stock in their 4-0 record against the Hurricanes this season. They know Carolina improved since it fired Peter Laviolette and named Paul Maurice coach on Dec. 3 and traded for Jokinen on Feb. 7 and Erik Cole on March 4.

"The Carolina we were seeing the first half of the year wasn't going to make the playoffs, let alone win a series," Thomas said. "So they've been a totally different team the second half."

The Hurricanes were 17-5-2 in their last 24 games.

The series may not be as physical as the one the Bruins played against the Canadiens, but the Hurricanes like to rush the net.

"They're fast," Thomas said. "They would like to get into the run-and-gun game, if at all possible. Obviously, they just came off a series where New Jersey was trying not to let them do that."

The Hurricanes may try that from the start, especially with the Bruins coming off a long layoff.

"The first five minutes are going to be real important for us in Game 1," wing Milan Lucic said. "Obviously, not playing for 10 days does take a little bit of a toll on you, but it's the playoffs. You can't have excuses."

But as the series goes on, Thomas thinks the rested Bruins will have an advantage.

"You might not see it in Game 1, but as the series extends on there's a chance that they could get more tired," he said. "Any time you play seven games, you're going to be more tired than if you only played four. It's just the nature of the human body."

"I was thinking we'd be playing Pittsburgh," centre Marc Savard said, "but that just proves you never give up and good things will happen. Carolina proved that."


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