RBC CENTER/ RALEIGH—The ‘Canes decided they liked their Game 3 performance, when Eric Staal, Sergei Samsonov and Jussi Jokinen scored in succession. So they decided to replicate the game with the same scorers, albeit in a different order. Carolina continued its strong play in the neutral zone and its special teams took care of the rest, winning the contest 4-1.
This time it was a third period surge that carried the ‘Canes over the Bruins and put a stranglehold on the season series. The ‘Canes need only one more win to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against either Pittsburgh or Washington. That series is currently tied at two games apiece.
The Hurricanes caught the first in a series of lucky breaks when the puck careened off the post early on a penalty to Sergei Samsonov. Jokinen skated in on Thomas and appeared to kick up some snow into the goalie’s face. David Krecji quickly administered justice, knocking Jokinen off his feet and incurring a roughing penalty.
The ‘Canes allowed P.J. Axelsson to take off on a shorthanded breakaway during the power play but Ward came up with the save.
Staal responded on the same play when he took an odd bounce at the right circle and fired a shot on net. The puck barely trickled past Thomas and found its way in against the left post. His tally assured many, and the trend continued; the ‘Canes have now won each of the seven postseason games in which Staal scored a goal.
“It seems like every time we need a goal or a big play, he shows up,” Tuomo Ruutu said of Staal. “That’s why he’s a great leader and one of the best players in the league. It’s not a coincidence that he shows up when we need him.”
But the power play didn’t stop there. Spurred on by a standing room only crowd as loud as has ever been heard in the RBC Center, the ‘Canes kept the zone and peppered Thomas with shots, mostly from the point. The ‘Canes got another lucky break when a Chara shot rang harmlessly off the post, then Thomas made several dazzling saves to keep the deficit at one.
Dennis Seidenberg started a tussle in front of the Boston bench and Cole came in to finish it. Cole received several elbows to the head for his efforts, but he earned an assist on Staal’s first goal, so all’s well that ends well.
Marc Savard tied it up for Boston on the power play. Savard’s shot went off Ward’s glove and in, even though he dove backwards to protect it. The goal was just the spark the Bruins needed to show themselves that they were still in it, and the Boston center knew it. Savard’s goal celebration, which involved beating the ice with his glove, would have made Alex Ovechkin proud.
Ward snagged Blake Wheeler’s attempted tip shot out of the air then bodied down a line drive. Gleason was lightly hooked, hammed it up and drew a call. The puck sat at Cole’s feet in the center of the crease almost comically while he and several Boston players scrambled around, searching for it and the crowd tried to helpfully call out its location. After Thomas found the puck and the whistle blew, Staal decided he had just about enough of Zdeno Chara acting as his unwanted bodyguard and the two shoved each other a few times. Staal lost his helmet before the referees broke it up.
Staal drew a penalty from Chara right off the bat in the third period and though it took the ‘Canes the entire power play to set it up, Jokinen came through again to give his team the go-ahead goal. Immediately after breaking up a 2-on-1 in his own zone, the previously snake-bitten Anton Babchuk blasted a shot from the point and Rod Brind’Amour sent the puck through the crease, where Jokinen was waiting to pick up the change. The crowd, gidde over Jokinen’s recent scoring tear, chanted his name.
“We’re going to keep getting them from him the rest of the way. It’s early,” Staal said of Jokinen in jest. “He keeps finding those areas and scoring extremely key goals. You always have those guys in the playoffs.”
Cole had two chances to put the game away and both chances went wide. He skated in on a three-on-one and then was set up by Ray Whitney on a partial breakaway. The former required bad luck and the latter chance game at the end of his shift while he was visibly worn out.
Sergei Samsonov unleashed some tricky moves and beat Thomas top shelf to bring the score to 3-1. Samsonov took the puck between the circles, swerved around and skated through the crease before sending it high.
Staal scored his second of the evening off another incredible individual effort. Staal took the puck from Joe Corvo at the blue line and surprised Thomas with the same wide-angle shot that beat Martin Brodeur in the waning seconds of Game 7. Jokinen received the secondary assist on both goals, giving him 10 points in 11 postseason games – good for a tie for ninth in the league in postseason scoring.
“For him to have stuck with it this year, to stick with it and focus with all these other things that have gone on around him, it’s a lesson to all of us,” Mo said on Jokinen.
When asked whether he had ever had a scoring streak like this in his career, Jokinen looked just as happily surprised as everyone else.
“Probably not,” Jokinen said. “I hope I can keep going.”
Chuck Kobasew and Rod Brind’Amour scrummed along the boards in the final seconds and Boston scrambled to come up with a goal for momentum’s sake, but the final score stayed at 4-1.
Not having to claw its way back from an intimidating deficit is a new concept for this team, but we’ll see if it can handle it. “The fourth one is the hardest” is a common saying, and the core of the Carolina roster learned that lesson in 2006, when Edmonton erased a 3-1 lead to push Game 7. Many fans would probably prefer to be on hand if the ‘Canes win it in Game 6, but better safe than sorry.
Epic kudos to the RBC Center crowd tonight – you all were incredible. You deserved a share in the primary assist on Staal’s first goal and were certainly on the ice (in the players’ heads, that is) during the team’s late third period goal spurt.
“It was a dogfight; it definitely wasn’t a 4-1 game, it was 1-1 in the third period,” Staal said. “We have guys that have been down that road before, and we’re going to go up to Boston and try to grind one out. It’s far from over.”
The ‘Canes could close out the series on Sunday night at 7:30. I don’t know about you all, but I’ll be giving my mother a peck om the cheek and some flowers for Mother’s Day, then quickly (but respectfully!) plant myself in front of the television.