RALEIGH, N.C. — The blood in the PNC Arena waters was visible early in Game 4 on Thursday and the Boston Bruins, being who they are right now, were not about to let an opportunity for the kill elude them.
The B’s secured the Prince of Wales Trophy with one of their most complete efforts of the postseason by smothering the demoralized Carolina Hurricanes, 4-0. And in a season in which the ’Canes embraced their Whalers heritage, their home rink sounded an awful lot like so many games at the Hartford Civic Center with the Bruins fans drowning out the locals, chanting “Let’s Go Bruins” and “Tuuukk” every time Tuukka Rask made any kind of save. By the end of the game, a large group of B’s fans ringed the players’ exit from the ice, chanting players’ names.
“How ‘bout that (expletive),” said a jubilant Brad Marchand to no one in particular as he came through the tunnel on his way to the jubilant B’s dressing room.
Nothing was going to stop the B’s on this night, certainly not the ’Canes, and not even the surprise scratch of Zdeno Chara. There was a time when news of Chara not being able to play in a postseason game would have been ominous, but not only did this D-corps in transition survive, it excelled. While Rask posted his second shutout of the postseason and second clean sheet in elimination games (he’s allowed three goals in four of them), he didn’t have to steal this one.
The B’s leaned heavily on Torey Krug (27:00 of ice time), Brandon Carlo (23:29) and Charlie McAvoy (22:29) and, facing a team that averaged almost 35 shots a game in the regular season, limited the ‘Canes to just 24 overall and only 13 in the last two periods. During one stretch in the second period, Carolina went 14 minutes without a shot on net. The B’s blocked 23 shots.
“Oh man, I really think we played well defensively tonight,” McAvoy said. “We competed hard for every puck and we had the mindset that we were going to win all those battles and we were going to stick with what’s given us success in breaking pucks out and we were able to do that. It was just a selfless effort, guys jumping into lanes blocking shots all night and obviously you have Tuukka Rask in net, it goes without saying what he means to us at this point in time. What a series-clinching game. It’s just crazy to think about we’re going to the Stanley Cup finals. This is a dream come true, but it’s just another box checked off. We’ve still got one more to go.”
There was little that you could find fault with the B’s as they raced out to a 3-0 series lead. But there was that one nagging fact that their vaunted top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak had not done a heck of a lot in this series. They were sufficiently displeased with their performance to have one their occasional powwows with assistants Jay Pandolfo and Joe Sacco before Game 4 to go over some video and get back on the right track.
The result? The line produced all four goals, Bergeron with two (including his first 5-on-5 goal of the playoffs) and Pastrnak and Marchand with one apiece.
“I think the last few games we knew we could be a little bit better than what we’ve been,” said Marchand, who nailed it down with the empty-netter. “With the situation we’ve been in, being up 3-0, everyone in the room wanted to be at their best and I think everyone brought their best tonight. Sometimes it bounces your way. You look at Bergy’s history and the way he steps up in big games. Pasta was great tonight. You look at why we’ve been successful and it’s because we’ve had each line and D pairing step up and play big in big situations.
“You look at (John Moore and Noel Acciari) coming in tonight and they were extremely good for our group. When you’re able to rely on everyone, it just makes it easy to do your job out there and you can just focus on what you can do and what you’re expected to do.”
No matter the opponent in the final, the Blues or the Sharks, it most likely will be their toughest of this magical ride. But this team should fear no one. They fought back to beat the speedy Toronto Maple Leafs. They endured the physicality of the Columbus Blue Jackets. In the Eastern Conference finals, the upstart Hurricanes barely landed a glove on them.
And through it all, the grizzled veterans, some of whom will be going to the Hall of Fame, have been able to mesh with the young kids such as McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Carlo and Sean Kuraly. When GM Don Sweeney undertook this rebuild-on-the-fly back in 2015, there was some serious doubt about whether he could hitch the two wagons together in time for another run before the vets’ window closed.
But here they are, in the Stanley Cup finals. The mission is not complete, but the accomplishment so far has been pretty darn impressive.