The Carolina Hurricanes are either going to disappoint thousands of Bostonian sports fans tonight or we're going to get a slobber-knocker of a Game 7 at 8 p.m. on Thursday night.
Which is to say that no matter what happens tonight in Raleigh, most of society wins.
So many dynamics have changed in this series after Game 5 that it almost feels like Game 1 of some bizarre little two-gamer, even with the Canes needing only one win to advance. The Boston Bruins look revitalized, from Zdeno Chara(notes) playing dominant hockey to four lines rolling effectively. The Jussi Jokinen(notes) slash on Chara (uncalled) and the Scott Walker(notes) punch in Aaron Ward(notes) (called, non-suspended) may have finally succeeded in turning these Bruce Banners into Incredible Hulks when it comes to rage.
"We learned something about Carolina's character [in Game 5]. When it comes to being a man and being straight ahead and playing as hard as you can and taking your beating and coming back to try to win Game 6, they're going to cheap shot you," said Edwards, who said the Canes have ignited the hate in the Bruins.
(OK, he actually said it using a "Blazing Saddles" reference: "Don't shoot Mongo. It only makes him mad.")
1. The Hurricanes Conspiracy Theory. No one's saying all Carolina fans believe the NHL is attempting to job them out of a conference finals appearance. But like Bubba from Canes Country, they do believe that incompetent officiating is costing them in this series:
Caniacs are not delusional, just look at the hard numbers. They don't lie. The Hurricanes have had 14 powerplay chances in this series and the Bruins have had 21. Does that sound equitable? It seems to some fans like the refs are trying to even up the series, and who can blame them?
The strangest thing about all of this is that Carolina is known as a non-physical, clean team. They had the fewest penalties of any team during the regular season. They were awarded 26 majors during the year, compared to 46 for the Bruins. But now suddenly, they are the bad guys who have no discipline?
On the otherhand, the Bruins are happy about finally playing "their game", an admittedly rough and physical contest which entails semi-legal crosschecks, interference, and gloved punches after the whistle. Whether you consider that "playoff hockey" or not, it is typically not the Hurricanes game.
Indeed. The question now becomes if the referees were influenced by the Walker near-suspension and other scuttlebutt about the way the Canes allegedly play. Is there carryover from the third period of Game 5?
2. Boston Must Harness Its Aggression. Maybe it will be "Win One For Wardo," as The Bruins Blog predicted the battle cry could be. There's no point in pretending the animosity won't be at record levels for this series tonight; not with Aaron Ward calling the Walker punishment "a joke." So own that agitation and feeling of indignation, and pound the Canes until you feel better about it. Worry about practiced emotional control in Game 7. The aggression in Game 5 clearly affected the Canes.
3. Eric Staal(notes) Must Pull a Chara. Zdeno was assumed deceased before Game 5, unable to do much of anything in the series. That was before he played his best game since Round 1, and Staal conversely played his least-effective game of the postseason (minus-3, three shots). Staal's a Conn Smythe candidate for a reason, and that reason is games like tonight's. If he's the best player in the ice not named Cam Ward(notes) for the home team, the Hurricanes are advancing tonight.
Carolina is 7-0 when Staal scores a goal; how's that for a slice of fried gold?
4. Home Cookin'. Canes Country notes that there is a distinct advantage for Carolina on home ice:
Boston's stars have struggled on the road this postseason. Marc Savard(notes) has nine points and a plus-3 in five home games, but just two points and a minus-3 on the road. Phil Kessel(notes)? Eight at home, two on the road, with a plus-5 vs. even home-to-road plus/minus advantage.
For Carolina, there's no place like home. The Canes are 4-1 this postseason at the RBC Center, their only loss coming in overtime in Game 3 vs. New Jersey. They have outscored their opponents 17-9 in Raleigh, compared to a 17-11 deficit on the road.
The Canes have shown to be a different team on home ice. We'll assume they'll settle for being a different team than they were in Game 5.
5. Finally, We've Clearly Said Too Much. Time to once again turn the mic over to YouTube hockey pundit Martin Stone for tonight's Bruins preview: