BOSTON — Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart sat in front of his locker today after the morning skate, trying to make sense of it all.
The Bruins led the Eastern Conference with 116 points. They're top-seeded in the East in the playoffs. Yet, here they sit, trailing the Hurricanes — a team they beat four times in the regular season and 4-1 in Game 1 — 3-1 in the series, a game away from elimination.
"We haven't played our best, we know that," Stuart said, echoing the comments of several of his teammates and coach Claude Julien.
"That's a good question," Stuart said. "I think they're playing real well. You have to give them credit. But also we just haven't been crisp. We have been losing a little bit more battles than we should be."
A lot of those lost battles, Stuart said, have come when the Canes forechecked with speed and authority. That, he said, has to change for the Bruins to be able to crank up their transition game, score some goals and win.
"We need to, first of all, get on pucks quicker and win battles," Stuart said. "They've been beating us to pucks and winning some battles.
"We start off doing that, then move the puck a little quicker. Not take too many looks, just take your first option and go from there and let our forwards skating it up."
The Canes, of course, plan to keep it up — keep the forecheck strong, beat the Bruins' defense to the puck, continue to win those battles.
"We've got to be on the attack, we've got to be getting in on the forecheck," the Canes' Eric Staal said. "If we do that we'll hopefully frustrate them and get our chances and capitalize.
"It's our skating. That's our key. That's what makes us good. If you have your legs and you're on the attack and on their defense, it makes it difficult for them. It can frustrate their offensive players because they're not getting the pucks where they want them."
Julien said today that the Canes' "trap game" also has been frustrating and stymied the Bruins' offensive transition.
"It's just not easy because they've got three guys waiting for us between the red and the blue line, and they've got a D in back, in deep, that just retrieves the puck when whenever we chip it in," he said.
Told about Julien's comments about the trap, Canes coach Paul Maurice smiled.
"We actually don't trap," he said. "There are worse things than the trap, by the way. There are more defensive schemes than the trap.
"We don't and he knows it."