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Bruins' loss to Hurricanes highlights one concern ahead of playoffs

Bruins' loss to Hurricanes highlights one concern ahead of playoffs originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

If you're skeptical about the Boston Bruins' chances of winning multiple rounds in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs, you can point to Wednesday night's loss to the Carolina Hurricanes as an example.

The Bruins, to their credit, showed great resilience and desperation to overcome a 2-0 deficit and tie the score in the third period despite going 0-for-4 on the power play and getting badly outplayed in the second period. But yet again, they weren't able to close the deal against a team like the Hurricanes.

A bad pinch by Bruins defenseman Hampus Lindholm allowed the Hurricanes to spring Jordan Martinook on a breakaway, and he beat goalie Linus Ullmark to give Carolina a 3-2 advantage with 2:27 remaining. The 'Canes protected that lead to deny the Bruins any points from this matchup.

“The game management at the end of the game was not good. That's what cost us the game," Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery said in his postgame press conference.

He didn't mention Lindholm by name, but he pointed to the veteran defenseman's ill-advised pinch as the reason for the scoring chance that led to Carolina's winning goal.

"The defensemen should not be pinching in," Montgomery said. "It’s 2-2. There’s a shot on net. We have to make sure we keep people in front of us. It looked like a 2-on-1 and then it became a breakaway."

Montgomery later added: “The game management bothers me at the end. You’ve got to know you’ve done a great job. We’ve tied it up, 2-2. We don’t need to force anything. Points are valuable. It’s a good lesson for us moving into the playoffs. The momentum’s on our side. It’s 2-2. The crowd’s into it. The Garden’s buzzing. But you can’t lose our position and give up a breakaway.”

This game was another example of the Bruins not being able to close against an opponent that is well-coached, well-structured defensively, doesn't give much time and space, is able to kill penalties, and plays with a relentless forecheck that creates tons of pressure.

The New York Islanders played this style in the 2021 playoffs and beat the Bruins in six games in the second round. The Hurricanes used this style to eliminate the Bruins in seven games in the 2022 first round. And we saw the Florida Panthers' aggressive forecheck and physical play wear down the Bruins in a stunning Game 7 upset in the first round last season.

It's not like the Bruins are getting dominated in these games. They often have a lead or the score is tied at some point in the third period. Finishing the job has been the hard part. They tied the score in the third period of Game 5 against the Panthers in last year's playoffs and lost in overtime. They had two separate leads in the third period of Game 6 of that series and lost. They also took the lead in the third period of Game 7 and failed to close it out in OT.

Whether it's sloppy puck management (turnovers), bad decision making (like Lindholm's pinch), not handling the pressure of the oncoming forecheck, or not getting a crucial save or two, the Bruins have had a lot of trouble against opponents in the mold of the Hurricanes in recent seasons.

The Bruins are really good. Let's not lose sight of that fact. There's a reason why they own the Eastern Conference's top record at 29-9-9 and trail the Vancouver Canucks by two points in the race for the Presidents' Trophy. There's a lot to like about this team, and some of the biggest positives -- Trent Frederic's improvement and Charlie Coyle having the best season of his career -- were among the highlights of Wednesday's loss.

But until the Bruins show they can consistently beat opponents like the Hurricanes, it's hard to fault anyone for being skeptical of this team's chances of playing deep into May and June. If the Bruins are going to make it to the Stanley Cup Final and win it, they will likely have to beat two or three teams that play the Hurricanes' style, or something very similar.