In their wildest dreams, perhaps Caniacs dared to think of earning a split against Boston at home. This was a team that had lost six of 44 games in regulation in their own building and thoroughly manhandled the ‘Canes in Game 1. In addition, this was a team that had beaten Carolina five straight times by a combined score of 22-6.
The ‘Canes hit another level tonight and Cam Ward had what was clearly an out-of-body experience in the net tonight en route to a dominating 3-0 shut out win in Boston’s barn. The ‘Canes’ defense didn’t turn the puck over as frequently and the penalty killers certainly got the job done, shutting down the Bruins four times. The offense found its way around Tim Thomas three (scratch) two times (oops, sorry) and added an empty-netter, but Ward was the star tonight, front and center. He saw the puck clearly, performed acrobatics that were nothing short of Cirque de Soleil caliber and seemed to grow an extra set of arms to keep the puck away from the goal line.
Strangely, the Versus broadcast seemed to be slanted away from the Bruins, edged on of course by the acquisition of John Forslund for the play-by-play. But in the pregame – which didn’t include Forslund – all the commentators could talk about was how the ‘Canes could get past the Bruins. Hey, I’m not complaining – giving a Southeast team (and a small market team) the time of day is not commonplace. And interviewing Aaron Ward after the second period was a stroke of genius. He knows the game and both teams so very well; if Ward doesn’t go into broadcasting after his playing career is over, it will be a great shame.
Another hot topic in the pregame gabfest: Erik Cole’s lack of production during the playoffs. Cole and Matt Cullen (coincidentally the proud owners of two of the best beards on the team) both made a splash on the scoresheet after hiding away for most of the postseason. Cole assisted on Joe Corvo’s marker to start the scoring and Cullen notched a short-handed goal in one of the ‘Canes’ best second periods so far.
Carolina struck twice in the second and put the Bruins back on their heels – a very rare accomplishment indeed. Corvo sent a blast through traffic after a long period of sustained pressure in Boston’s zone.
Cullen added to the lead on the power play. Though he’s not the fastest skater on the PK, Chad LaRose outwitted the Boston defensemen and gained entry into the Bruins’ zone on the power play. Though his scoring attempt hit the side of the net, a heavily-covered LaRose sent the puck to Cullen, who was sneaking toward the net. Cullen whistled the shot past Thomas before the goaltender knew what was happening.
Staal was ridden by Zdeno “Tower of Power” Chara (I read it on NHL.com this morning, and I like it better than our “Jolly Yellow Giant” moniker) like a carousel pony all night, but Staal still managed to get free and notch two points. Claude Julien sent Chara over the boards every time Staal’s pinky toe touched the ice, and he delivered one nasty hit on the ‘Canes’ star that was replayed on the telecast time and time again. But by the end, Staal was easily giving him the slip. He scored an empty-netter for his sixth of the postseason.
And now, that ugly disallowed goal. With 0.2 seconds remaining in the second period (that number keeps cropping up…) Chad LaRose scored on Thomas top shelf. The puck barely made it under the crossbar and only briefly landed behind the goal line before it was swept out. However, the on-ice referee called “no goal,” and unless the review showed irrefutable evidence that it went over the goal line, the score would remain the same. Well, they didn’t find any, and even though it looked pretty obvious on the replay, the rules maintained they had to be sure. No goal.
(Did anyone else notice that LaRose appeared to be sucking his gloved thumb while they looked at the goal? That was a little weird.)
Hooray to the judges for looking at the non-goal for as long as they did and for sending it to Toronto for a second opinion, but boo on them for somehow still managing to make the wrong decision. Because the knucklehead on the ice called “no-goal,” the judges’ hands were tied. Thankfully, it didn’t matter.
The Bruins came out firing and Ward had to make an incredible chest save less than a minute in. But as soon as the ‘Canes got it out of the zone, Andrew Ferrence took a slashing penalty and it was all downhill for the Bruins from there.
Ward added what is perhaps the highlight of his highlight reel late in the third. Monuments and paintings should be commissioned in its honor. Michael Ryder, the Bruins’ leading playoff point-scorer, found himself in front of an empty net with players piled up in the crease. The Boston bench even leaped up in glee, prematurely assured of a goal. How Ward a.) found the shooter b.) was able to save the point-blank shot by flashing out his leg pad is completely beyond me. He was a superhero tonight.
What a win. The ‘Canes head back to the RBC Center with a series tie, when many pundits said this was the most likely series to result in a sweep (of the Boston variety, to be clear.) This was a promising, emotional win over a tough team.
Game 3 will be on Wednesday at 7:30. The ‘Canes took a stick and poked the Big, Bad Bruins in the eye; we’ll have to see how the heavily favored team reacts in Raleigh.