Battle-tested Bruins prove they’re comfortable being uncomfortable

The Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes exchange handshakes after the Bruins eliminated the Hurricanes in five games.

TORONTO – The moment when a playoff series gets decided only arrives at the end if we’re lucky.

The Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets when they coughed up a 3-0 lead in Game 3 like Nazem Kadri’s cat does a hairball.

The Blue Jackets’ fate, in turn, felt all but sealed when they grinded and gritted their way through eight periods and two all-time records — Joonas Korpisalo for saves made and Seth Jones for minutes played — only to have their blue collars wrung by a Brayden Point blast in the seventh hour and eighth period of Game 1 in the next round.

The NHL is a hard league rife with parity, despite what the Arizona Coyotes might show you. Post-season wins are precious and not to be mishandled.

So, it wasn’t Game 5’s 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins — a legit Stanley Cup contender gradually rounding into form — that did the Carolina Hurricanes in.

No, the nail was driven much earlier. Elimination Wednesday was merely the denouement.

If it wasn’t top goal-getter Andrei Svechnikov tangling with an immortal Zdeno Chara and buckling over his own ankle late in Game 3, then it was Game 4’s see-it-to-believe-it defensive collapse, in which Carolina squandered a 2-0 third-period lead that, by all rights, should’ve helped them climb back into this thing.

Instead, that loss broke them like a wild horse.

They weren’t going to take three straight against the Presidents’ Trophy champs, regardless of Tuukka Rask’s status. And you don’t win series in which you lose three games to the other side’s backup goalie or three games in which you held a lead and failed to hang on.

Now, that’s not to say coach Rod Brind’Amour is wrong when — swimming in the post-handshakes disappointment, to the same establishment that booted his squad last year — he says the Hurricanes will depart the bubble with heads held high.

Or that his was the better team Wednesday. Carolina did generate 61 per cent of shot attempts at even strength and suffered from some frantic crease scrambles that might have concluded with a red lamp on a luckier evening.

But Boston is comfortable being uncomfortable, and the evidence is mounting.

Suddenly tagged with the No. 4 seed despite being the only NHL team with 100 regular-season points? No. 1 goalie leaves abruptly mid-series for family reasons? Rocket Richard winner misses three contests due to injury? No problem.

The Bruins are led by a captain who has 190 post-season games on his résumé. They don’t panic down a goal or two, and they roll out the most well-oiled power play in the sport.

They find a way because they’ve been around long enough to learn all the ways to find.

David Krejci — arguably the most underrated 2C in the conference and the club’s leading playoff scorer (nine points in eight games) — was one of two Bruins crowding Petr Mrazek’s crease when he pounced on a rebound and tied Game 4.

A savvy Patrice Bergeron slipped the backbreaking winner from behind the goal line, off Mrazek’s skate, with 3.5 seconds left in Period 2.

“I looked. I saw he was standing up, and I was just trying to throw it on his feet,” Bergeron explained. “We got lucky on that one, and I’ll take it.”

The recipe is simple to write but difficult to execute: Win the special-teams battle. Build a roster deep enough to survive the inevitability of post-season injuries. Make one more timely save than the other guy. In case of emergency, remain calm. And when your opponent gives you an inch, stomp ’em out.

“They know what’s at stake,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, watching his leadership group drag the rest to another series victory.

“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.”

Bingo. There’s the thing. To win 16 and pop the corks, you’ll have to steal a few with Plan B.

“They were little more patient with their game,” Brind’Amour conceded. “When we got frazzled a little at times and got off our game, they just stayed with it. They hunkered down, they blocked a lot of shots, they did what they do to be successful. And we, at times, tried to do too much and we got away from our game.”

Remember: Carolina entered this round on a high, sweeping the Rangers, securing victories from both goalies, and wielding the confidence of a deadly first line and a newly healthy No. 1 defenceman.

Boston, conversely, has been slower to find its rhythm. The defending Eastern Conference representatives got dealt adversity early and often, yet still knotted up their first-round foes in a tidy five games.

What should be frightening to their next draw (most likely Tampa Bay) is that the Bruins have another level to reach.

“You sort of keep the trains running on time, so to speak, and do your job,” Cassidy said. “Our guys have really grasped that culture we’ve created here.

“We know that opposing teams are going to throw everything at us and try to stay in the series. We’ve been there before in both situations, and we know that those are the toughest and you need to make sure you take care of business and not let this drag.

“That’s all that really matters. You find a way.”

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