Around the NHL, their peers revere them. Other management teams yearn to have a group like them. They have stuck together for more than a decade, earning the poise, pride, and scars from dozens of playoff games.
Those Bruins veterans have earned another round of salutations from a defeated opponent, by way of a clinching 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series on Wednesday in Toronto. After the handshakes and hugs, social distancing be damned in those moments, captain Zdeno Chara tipped his cap right back.
“First, I would like to express how good the Carolina Hurricanes are,” Chara said, before answering a reporter’s question. “They are a very dangerous team. Just want to congratulate them on going to the playoffs and playing really hard. They’re very well coached and they work extremely hard.”
In every situation during this first-round series, the Bruins knew what to do. Spotting the Hurricanes a one-goal lead, they exerted themselves to close out their younger, less-experienced foe in one more game than last year’s Eastern Conference finals sweep.
David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron provided the goals in the clincher, both on the power play. Brad Marchand was a playmaking, backchecking, penalty-killing ace, along with Bergeron. Krejci had a key shot block. Chara, who logged 2:40 on the final shift, didn’t seem to leave the ice in the closing minutes.
“They know what’s at stake,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, whose charges avoided a nasty back-to-back — Game 6 would have been Thursday — and could now rest until Tuesday. “They’ve been around long enough to know that when you get a chance to close out a team you have to take advantage of it. Not that by any means this was our best game. I thought Carolina had some tough luck around the net, they came ready to play, they were better than us early on, but we found our game.”
In last year’s series, Tuukka Rask seemed 10 feet tall, breaking the Hurricanes’ will over four games. With the starter at home this time, Jaroslav Halak pulled his weight, stopping 23 of 24 shots. Halak is now 3-1 in potential series-clinching games for his career, with a .954 save percentage.
The hungry Hurricanes, meanwhile, need to bake a little longer. Their shaky netminding, feeble power play (0 for 3; 2 for 15 for the series), and inability to finish doomed them after a play-in sweep of the Rangers. Their season ended after Boston spotted them the first goal.
“We found different ways to win,” Cassidy said. “Different ways each game, different people in the lineup, different goaltenders playing. That was the best part of the first round. And I think our lineup now will get a little more solidified as we go.”
Carolina, trying to play physical with the Bruins and energized by both the elimination situation and the return of captain Jordan Staal, took the lead 9:35 in. Defenseman Haydn Fleury scored his second of the series, walking in and firing a top-shelf wrister through a Joakim Nordstrom screen. Par Lindholm, the fourth-line center, was too low in the defensive zone, creating a gap for Fleury.
The Bruins erased those mistakes, and in time, may have made Carolina question its decision to go back to Petr Mrazek in net.
A returning David Pastrnak (two assists), who missed the previous three games with an undisclosed injury, nearly scored on an early pair of chances in front. But he was involved in both goals.
At the end of a long shift (1:16) in the second period, Bergeron helped create a turnover in the defensive zone and sprinted up the ice. Marchand knew what to do. He slingshotted a lead feed to his longtime linemate, who drew a hooking call on Sebastian Aho before he could finish on Mrazek.
After a breather while the second unit got to work, the Bruins’ first unit hopped over the boards with Pastrnak joining Krejci, who had taken his place. They were not rusty. Every skater touched the puck in the flow of a rush: Pastrnak on the entry, Bergeron to Torey Krug to Marchand for a shot, Bergeron again for a rebound chance off Pastrnak’s leg. Krejci had a gimme in front. Tie game, 4:30 left in the second.
“We all love playoff Krech,” Pastrnak said of his Czech countryman, who scored his third of the series and kept his six-game point streak alive (3-5—8), going back to the final round-robin game against Washington. He nearly had another power-play goal midway through the third, hitting a crossbar with plenty of net in front of him.
Late in the second, Bergeron made the Hurricanes pay for a poor decision by winger Jordan Martinook.
Martinook’s head shot on Ondrej Kase put Boston on the power play. Bergeron, with 3.5 seconds left in the frame, collected a rebound behind the goal, saw Mrazek standing, and whipped a shot off the inside of the unaware keeper’s skate.
“Got lucky on that one,” Bergeron said.
The Bruins, who outshot the Hurricanes, 27-24, held them to six shots in the third period. In the final two minutes, Marchand missed an empty net by inches. A Carolina timeout let the Bruins’ best — Marchand, Bergeron, Krejci, Charlie McAvoy, and Chara — return to the ice for the final minute.
Chara flipped it out. Marchand secured it in the neutral zone. The clock ran out.