Friday May 8th, 2009

There's no panic in the Boston Bruins heading into tonight's critical Game 4 against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh.

"We're not in trouble," coach Claude Julien told the assembled media yesterday. "We're in a series, a hard-fought series. What we have to do is get our game going in the right direction, which means a commitment to outworking the other team and a commitment to making better decisions. It's a mindset we struggled with the last couple games, but there's ups and downs to a season. You win a game, you're Stanley Cup contenders. You lose one, you're in trouble. That's what you have to face every day. We just have to keep our focus on what we have to do and go out and do it."

He's right, of course. The Bruins entered the playoffs as the top seed in the East and are right back in this series with a win tonight.

No reason to think they can't rediscover the work ethic that's been noticeable in its absence in Games 2 and 3. Or remember to drive hard to the net. Or commit to treating the puck as though it were a possession to be cherished, not casually tossed around like a Frisbee at Widespread Panic concert.

Julien will hammer those points home tonight as central tenets of what made the Bruins successful. But if he hopes to turn this series around, he might want to consider abandoning one of his core values.

Boston's ability to roll four lines was one of the foundations of their regular-season success. It kept them fresh and vigorous over the long haul. But it might be proving counterproductive as they drive deeper into the playoffs.

That's not to denigrate the efforts of Stephane Yelle, Shawn Thornton and Blake Wheeler. Boston's fourth line hasn't been the problem, per se. They've worked hard and established a physical presence down low. Pretty much exactly what Julien wishes lines one through three would be doing with some regularity.

But even when that group has the 'Canes pinned in their zone, there's no real threat. They're like seat fillers at the Oscars. They're present and they look the part, but they aren't winning anything. The trio has a goal and an assist to show for nearly 244 minutes of ice so far in the playoffs. You can do the math. It's not flattering.

Those are minutes that other teams are carving up and assigning to players more capable of impacting the outcome. Compare the average even-strength ice time earned by Marc Savard (14:05) to other key forwards in the postseason:

Ryan Getzlaf (19:38)

Sidney Crosby (16:01)

Johan Franzen (15:39)

Pavel Datsyuk (15:35)

Eric Staal (15:37)

Henrik Sedin (15:22)

Outside of Getzlaf's Ryoki Inoue-esque workload, most of the others are being given three more shifts per game. May not sound like much, but it's enough to keep the legs warm and help the player stay in touch with the rhythm of the game.

In all, there are 36 forwards averaging more ice thus far than Savard. Meanwhile, there are no fourth-liners even close to Yelle's 11:04. That's right -- just three minutes fewer per game at even strength than the guy who finished ninth overall in the scoring race.

It's not just a matter of demanding that your best players be your best players at this time of year. It's about giving them more of an opportunity to have an impact on the game.

The Bruins need more out of their big guns. And they aren't going to get it with the big guns cooling their heels on the bench.

I'm sure Stephane Yelle will understand.

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