Sports

For the Bruins, the playoffs are getting easier instead of harder

Canes on verge of being eliminated

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour reviews the 2-1 playoff loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals while also looking ahead to Game 4 at PNC Arena. The Canes must win May 16, 2019 to extend their season.
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Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour reviews the 2-1 playoff loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals while also looking ahead to Game 4 at PNC Arena. The Canes must win May 16, 2019 to extend their season.

The News & Observer and The Boston Globe are sharing stories during the Eastern Conference finals of the NHL playoffs.

The Bruins are running downhill on the way to the Stanley Cup Final. Each series has been easier than the one before.

These Cup playoffs for the Spoked-B’s have been like a NASA countdown.

Seven games . . . then six . . . now perhaps four?

Liftoff.

Bring on the San Jose Sharks or the St. Louis Blues.

It’s strange. Has there ever been a championship run in which each round got easier? Certainly the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox were more tested in the ALCS than in the World Series, but they did not experience anything like what we are seeing in this magical — dare we say easy? — run to the Final. Those Sox faced much tougher competition in the second round than they did in the first. Only the World Series (both sweeps) was easy.

It’s never easy, of course — unless it’s the Patriots in the AFC East or the 2018-19 Red Sox against the AL bum-of-the-week-clubs. Winning at the playoff level is always rugged and hard.

There was nothing “easy” about the Bruins’ 2-1 Game 3 victory over the Hurricanes at PNC Arena Tuesday. Tuukka Rask stopped 20 shots in a scoreless first period, and the Bruins smothered the Hurricanes on five power plays. Don’t try telling Chris Wagner there was anything easy when he may have broken his forearm blocking a shot in the third-period frenzy.

But you have to admit, you didn’t think this Boston run to the Cup Final was going to be paved with so little resistance.

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It took seven games to beat the 100-point Maple Leafs in Round 1. The B’s had to win Game 6 on the road in hockey-crazed Toronto and win Game 7 at home in the Garden. They outscored the Maple Leafs, 23-17, in the series.

Then came the Columbus Blue Jackets — instead of the 62-win, team-of-the-decade Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bruins beat the Jackets in six, winning three in a row to close out the series. You can certainly make a case that the Jackets were better than the Leafs, but on paper, Round 2 was easier than Round 1. It took six games instead of seven. Boston outscored Columbus, 17-11, which, percentage-wise, is a greater difference than Round 1.

Now we have the Bruins on the threshold of a four-game sweep. They have outscored the Hurricanes, 13-5. Canes’ coach Rod Brind’Amour used the word “demoralizing’’ after the loss. It feels like this one is over. By any measure, the Canes have been an easier opponent than either the Leafs or Jackets.

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour addresses the media following the Hurricanes loss to Boston

It is not supposed to trend in this direction during the playoffs. But these have been unusual playoffs. This is the Ring Around The Rosie hockey spring in which they all fall down.

All the division winners are gone. All the 100-point teams (except the Bruins) in the Eastern Conference are gone. All of the big stars are gone. The defending Cup champs are gone. The defending Western Conference champs are gone. Calgary, Nashville, Winnipeg, gone, gone, gone. The only goalie who was playing as well as Rask (Dallas’s Ben Bishop) is gone.

The Bruins are, for the most part, healthy. They have had (and will have) home-ice advantage in every round. They have won six straight playoff games for the first time since 1978, which is before Bobby Orr retired from the NHL. They have trailed for only 13 minutes and eight seconds in those six games.

Too easy? A tarnished Cup?

No way. There are no style points when it comes to championship hardware. Does anybody remember or care that the Patriots’ 13-3 Super Bowl win over the Rams last February was downright unwatchable? It was a rock fight, devoid of everything we like about the sport. No New England fans will ever remember the bad stuff about that game. Winning a Super Bowl is all that lasts. The diamonds on the rings are just as precious.

Fast-forward to May, when the Bruins have filled hearts and provided hope in New England’s soggy spring of 2019. After working side-by-side with the always-fawned-upon Celtics for seven months, it is the local hockey team that has fumigated the Garden after the playoff stench left by odious Kyrie and Friends.

Carolina Hurricanes goalie Curtis McElhinney addresses the media following the Hurricanes' loss to Boston

Ultimately, the Celtics were losers, and they lost without fun, without dignity. They hated each other and it was obvious.

The Bruins are the opposite.

There was a nice little moment in the midnight-hour presser after Game 3 Tuesday. Rask and Charlie McAvoy were sitting at the interview dais and just about every question was directed toward Rask. When it wrapped up, Rask said, “Thanks for coming, Chuck,’’ and smiled as he got up from his chair.

Going along with the gag, McAvoy tapped his microphone a few times in “Hello? Anyone home, McFly?” fashion and said, “My mike does work.’’

Everybody laughed. Very unCeltic-like.

Don’t call it easy, but Boston’s downhill run to the Stanley Cup Final resumes Thursday night at PNC Arena.

Bruins at Hurricanes

When: 8 p.m., Thursday

Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh

TV: NBCSN

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