by Kate Shefte
RBC CENTER/ RALEIGH—When Eric Staal warningly told the press that the “fourth win was the hardest” after Game 4, he wasn’t screwing around. The oddly prophetic statement now has more than a twinge of desperation in it, as his ‘Canes are suddenly on the brink after failing to close Boston out twice in a row. The Hurricanes dug a two-goal hole for themselves just five minutes in and never crawled out of it, ultimately losing 4-2 in Raleigh. After leading the series 3-1, the team is headed back to Boston for its second consecutive Game 7.
“There wasn’t enough conviction in the one-on-one battles,” Erik Cole said. The simpler we play, the better we’re going to be. We’ve got to regroup and go up there and win a big game.”
Maurice inserted Ryan Bayda back into line-up after he missed two games with flu-like symptoms, curiously favoring him over Tim Conboy in what promised to be an extremely physical game after Boston presumably wanted to make Carolina – more specifically, Scott Walker – pay for the “non-suckerpunch” on Aaron Ward. Instead, the Bruins went for the jugular in the old-fashioned way, which was beating Carolina handily on the score sheet. The fight was almost rendered moot, except for the pride involved – Walker was given a small fine and Ward’s tests came up clean. He was in the line-up for Boston sans face shield, though his doctor recommended he wear one.
The ‘Canes are undefeated in the postseason when they got the first goal. However, the team got off to a terrible start when, two minutes in, Boston’s Mark Recchi scored off a two-on-one. Niclas Wallin pinched in too far and got caught, sending Recchi and Patrice Bergeron down the ice alone. Anton Babchuk went down to take the pass away and hopefully preserve an empty net, inadvertently taking the net with him as he crashed into Ward. A creative strategy, if not the smartest, and it almost worked. The referees looked to see whether the net came off its moorings before the puck crossed the line, but the goal call on the ice stood.
The troubles worsened three minutes later Steve Montador ripped a shot from the point past a screened Ward to put his Bruins up by two.
Gleason said the team was nervous coming out of the gate, even though its had the crowd on its side and the upper hand.
“If we can match their ten minutes early in the ten minutes, I think we’ll be in better shape,” Gleason said.
Carolina woke up after the second goal and put together several good scoring chances. Toward the end of the second period, the ‘Canes held the zone but some heads-up plays by the Boston defense and several incredibly lucky breaks allowed the puck to go just wide. Zdeno Chara hooked Staal behind the net and the penalty carried over to the second period. Corvo made an outfielder snatch out of midair to keep the puck in but Babchuk whiffed on an open net later on the play, and the ‘Canes failed to convert.
The line of Chad LaRose, Matt Cullen and Walker, the only line that consistently looked awake, cut the lead to 2-1 early in the second. Cullen finally got the ‘Canes on the board after the power play expired. Cullen took a pass from Boston’s most despised, Walker, and slid around the crease, throwing shots on Tim Thomas as he went. He took his own rebound and sent it high over Thomas’ leg.
Walker was a man possessed tonight, trying to make up for Sunday’s big oops. Perhaps he wished to stave off the guilt; if the Bruins use what he did as a rallying cry to turn the series around, this will be a heck of a long summer for the ‘Canes’ forward.
When it looked as through the Hurricanes might stand a chance of coming back, the ‘Canes coughed it back up and gave the Bruins a 3-1 lead when they left Marc Savard alone at the back door midway through the second period. You could almost hear the whoosh of the air being sucked out of the RBC Center.
The Hurricanes couldn’t get it out of their own end after that and Patrick Eaves took a tripping penalty. Matt Cullen and Chad LaRose took off on a shorthanded breakout but Boston’s defense pinned Cullen to Thomas’ right side and the goalie shut him off.
Bergeron found Chuck Kobasew streaking to the net, unbeknown to Tim Gleason, who guarded the net. Kobasew tapped it in to give Boston a comfortable cushion and that’s how the period ended.
“We won one Game 7, we will win another!” the Jumbotron proclaimed at the start of the third period. Yep, even our beloved JT guys and girls had given up on this game with 20 minutes left to play.
The Bruins were like a highly trained school of fish, acting as one to stomp on the ‘Canes whenever they tried to enter the offensive zone. They picked off every pass, blocked every shot, and allowed Thomas to take care of the rest.
“It wasn’t about one guy,” Cole said. “It was about our team, and we weren’t good enough tonight.”
Sergei Samsonov brought it within two again due to his persistent play in front of the net. Samsonov poked at a rebound in front of Thomas and slid it underneath him. Staal and Gleason received the assists.
Right afterward, the ‘Canes received a power play when Montador boarded Tuomo Ruutu. Ruutu got up gingerly, checking his face for blood, and Staal almost converted early in the man advantage but sent the puck high and looked upwards in disgust. Ray Whitney gave Aaron Ward another pop in the face after the Bruins’ D-man roughed him up during the net. The blogosphere is probably rushing to his defense as we speak.
The power play passed by, but Dennis Wideman game the ‘Canes another chance immediately afterward. Carolina didn’t even put together a decent scoring opporunity on this one, essentially putting the nail in the coffin of its comeback chances and hammering it shut.
Ruutu and Walker executed a double hit on a Bruin, but that was the highlight of the latter half of the third period. The ‘Canes pulled Ward seemingly solely for the purpose of giving Boston the chance to score an empty-netter, because the ‘Canes sure didn’t have anything going.
As Maurice reminded us in the postgame, this is a clean slate for the ‘Canes, a winner-take-all fight to the finish. Boston reminded Carolina why it was so good in the regular season, and if the ‘Canes fall behind by a goal late, don’t look for any last-minute heroics. I'll go ahead and identify the elephant in the room: this looks oddly like the 2006 finals, except that the elephant is quite a bit bigger and has tusks. Massive, massive tusks. But no more messing around, so to speak. Game 7 is Thursday night at 7:30, and I’m not sure if Triangle Offense is liveblogging it yet; we’ll let you know.
Yeah, sure, the ‘Canes have Game 7 experience. But the players don’t seem to think that this has any bearing on Thursday night. Different team, different set of circumstances.
“I think it’s a whole new game,” Ruutu, his chipper self as always, said. “I don’t think it matters. We’ll see who wants it more.”