RALEIGH, N.C. — You don’t just win a Stanley Cup with superstars.
The biggest reason why the Boston Bruins now find themselves one win shy of playing for a championship was the play of three unsung grinders who could probably walk through Boston Common without drawing any attention.
It was that trio that took the wind out of the Hurricanes’ furious early push by finding the first goal. Kuraly corralled the puck inside the blue line and found Nordstrom with a soft backhand pass. He got it quickly across to Wagner, who beat Curtis McElhinney to put Carolina in a familiar position in this Eastern Conference Final:
Playing from behind, desperate and chasing.
"That line scored a goal by playing the right way," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "They were pursuing pucks. They’re fourth-liners so you don’t expect them to make a tick-tac-toe play, but they did.
"Good for them."
They were good all night despite not getting one offensive zone start in the game. Playing primarily against members of the Hurricanes’ bottom six, they consistently worked the puck down to the safe end of the ice and produced the most favourable results of any Bruins line.
That allowed Boston to reel off a sixth straight playoff win for the first time since 1978 despite a rare quiet performance from Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak at 5-on-5.
What stands out most about the 3-0 series lead for the Bruins is that their star forwards have yet to inflict their typical punishing impact against Carolina. Marchand did score the eventual winner on a power play in Tuesday’s game, but it’s only a matter of time before that group is humming along at even strength again.
"I kind of wish they were going off, to be honest with you," said Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour. "I wish we were sitting here going, ‘Man, how do we stop ‘em?’ Because you know eventually they’re going to get on the board and that is a little bit worrisome.
"But that’s why they’re a good team. That’s why they’re still playing, that’s why they’re who they are because it’s not really about one line.
"Even though they have a great line, they’ve got four good lines that they can roll out there and they’re not afraid to put anyone against anybody and that’s when you know you’ve got a team that’s cooking."
The margins were particularly small with the series shifting to PNC Arena for Game 3 and an energized fanbase trying to will the Hurricanes back into the series. Carolina came out like a house on fire, with Teuvo Teravainen missing a wide-open net in the opening seconds and Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask the only reason the score remained 0-0 after a 20-shot first period for the home side.
That included four big penalty kills by Boston, including an extended 3-on-4 sequence and a brief 3-on-5. Nordstrom, Bergeron and Zdeno Chara did yeoman’s work on the three-man kills.
Boston went to work after weathering the early storm surge, grinding out a couple goals and then significantly limiting the Grade-A chances against once it had the lead. Mark it down as a textbook performance for a team trying to get back to its first Cup final since 2013.
It took everyone.
Cassidy gave his fourth line more than five minutes of even-strength ice time in a table-turning second period. Kuraly finished the night with seven shots on goal. Along with Nordstrom and Wagner, his line generated eight scoring chances for.
"We were trying to win battles all over the ice. Playing simple north-south hockey," said Nordstrom. "We know that if we’re playing the right way we’re tough to play against and we’re going to get some chances offensively."
"They’re a big part of why we’re a good team," said Marchand.
The only downside was seeing Wagner’s night end less than five minutes from the final buzzer. He blocked a Justin Faulk shot with his right forearm and was in visible distress when he left the ice for the dressing room.
"I don’t have an update," said Cassidy. "He’s not good right now, obviously he came off in a lot of pain. I’m just very pleased with what he was able to bring for us. That whole line."
The Bruins have Noel Acciari waiting in the wings if Wagner isn’t available for Game 4.
They also have a significant carrot dangling if they can finish this series off with a sweep. That would give them more than a week to rest and prepare for the Stanley Cup Final.
Amazingly they’re here despite seeing Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak combine for one even-strength assist in the series.
"Playoff time it doesn’t matter how you get it done," said Marchand. "As long as you get it done."