RBC CENTER, RALEIGH—Question: When is the fourth game of an 82-game season a must-win? Answer: When you lost the first three games.
The Carolina Hurricanes finally broke through in the win column Wednesday night, assembling their first comprehensive effort of the year. All it took was a nationally televised visit from the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins.
Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand scored for the Bruins, who had been publicly called out by coach Claude Julien earlier in the week after a slow start of their own. After cavorting with the Stanley Cup itself at a New England Patriots home game over the weekend, there was even talk of the Bruins possibly being cursed. Once the puck drops on a season, players don’t touch the cup unless they’ve won it. But the Bruins were stuck doing it. The ceremony had been rescheduled from early in the football season, before the hockey season started.
But this game wasn’t about curses. This game was about the Canes—to a man—putting out the kind of intense, 60-minute effort that it will take for this team to capture a playoff berth. Every player on the ice did something worth mentioning.
There was Bryan Allen, logging a game-high 18:24 and blocking certainly more than the seven shots that the statisticians gave him credit for.
There was Brandon Sutter, getting his first point of the year by assisting on the winning goal, and winning 15 of 21 face-offs.
There was Anthony Stewart scoring in his less than seven minutes of ice time, Jamie McBain skating 17 capable minutes in his first start of the year, Tim Gleason’s ill-tempered physicality that wore on the Bruins as the game went on, and Patrick Dwyer’s penalty-killing energy and relentlessness in the corners.
Carolina’s penalty kill kept them in the game early, as it has even throughout the losing streak. The Canes took two penalties in the first seven minutes, and three more in an eight-minute span of the second period. Unlike previous games, however, they gave no two-man advantage time to their opponent.
Penalties have been an issue for the Canes thus far, although coach Paul Maurice praised the shorthanded unit after the game and said, “You want your team playing hard enough that they might take penalties. They weren’t lazy, I’ll tell you that.”
The Bruins showed two power play formations: a conventional setup with ex-Canes Dennis Seidenberg and Joe Corvo manning the points and trying to produce rebounds for bruisers Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton down low, and one with a single center point that tried repeatedly to rotate pucks around the horn for Patrice Bergeron to feed a pass across the crease to the weak-side forward. Although Bergeron produced a few great chances, the Bruins never scored up a man.
The Canes, however, did. After a scoreless first period, Carolina began the second with just under a minute of power play time to spend. After Tomas Kaberle and Pitkanen played catch at the points, Pitkanen clacked the puck back and forth with his stick in the circle as the seconds ticked down, mesmerizing the Bruins defense but drawing audible ire from the crowd. That ire turned to cathartic cheers when the big Finn suddenly flung the puck along the ice through a forest of legs and in, Eric Staal providing the body in front of the net.
The goal sparked a push by the Canes as all four lines had subsequent scoring chances, most notably a Tuomo Ruutu pass through the slot to a cutting Jussi Jokinen that went just behind his stick blade.
But Tlusty’s high-sticking minor evened the momentum, and Ward had to slide across the net beautifully to make a directional save on a hard Johnny Boychuk wrister.
A play about seven minutes in helped illustrate how the Canes’ attention to detail is finally coming around. Stewart made a great play inside his own blueline to intercept a pass between Bruins defenders across the top of the Canes’ zone, but he didn’t have the speed for a breakaway. Instead he skated wide, drawing the other forwards up ice with him, and wristed a shot from the dot that went perhaps a yard over the goal, caught the curvature of the boards and zipped up ice before Carolina could react.
The Bruins instantly had an odd-man rush. Ward went down to foist off the initial shot, but Pitkanen had to clear a bouncing puck from the crease to save a goal. Stewart simply has to hit the net on that shot. Later, he did.
Carolina pushed back after their shorthanded run. After Johnny Boychuk took a goalie interference call flashing to the net to try to convert one of those Bergeron passes, the Canes had one of those power plays that did everything but score. Jeff Skinner shined, ducking his shoulder beneath Seidenberg’s pursuing a puck into the corner, flinging the defender off him and turning with the puck all in one motion, and then walking it out toward the goal with three Bruins collapsing on him to set up an open slot chance for Kaberle. Tim Thomas, who was great but not invincible, parried the wrist shot away.
Just under four minutes into the third, Stewart showed the kind of persistence that the coaching staff is looking for from him. Bruins twice blocked his attempts at centering passes but the puck returned to him each time. Walking from behind the goal, he found himself high enough in the circle to flick a low shot by Thomas’ pad and in, with Tim Brent providing distraction in front of the goalie.
Later, Maurice praised Stewart and his linemates. “The big goal for me was Stewart’s goal. Confidence-wise for that line, and for me wanting to put them on the ice in a tight game.”
Stewart played it off, however, after the game. “Those are the kinds of goals I’m going to have to get—the garbage goals. I like the ones off the rush but, to be successful, the garbage goals are going to have to be my forte.”
Pressed on the skill level of his play, he accepted a little more credit.
“I don’t really remember how the play developed. I saw Thomas had it, and he lost it, and I think it went back to the point. I worked it out front and just gave a little one-two deke there and got a nice hard shot low. It ended up going off his pad and the post there. So it’s not necessarily a garbage goal, but certainly a grinding goal. It’s nice to get the first one out of the way.”
Before the crowd’s buzz died down, Boston answered to make it a 2-1 game, as Seguin wristed a perfect shot over Ward’s blocker into the far corner of the net from a fairly wicked angle, only 25 seconds after Stewart's marker.
The Canes showed more power-play prowess—but didn’t score—and then the Bruins’ big line started rolling some dominant shifts. With first-line center David Krejci out of the lineup with a minor injury, Seguin (19) skated with Lucic (17) and Horton (18) on what could be called the Consecutive Number line.
But it was the line checking the Consecutive Numbers that scored the next goal. With under seven minutes left, Dwyer did the work behind the net to spring the puck into the low slot. After Tlusty whiffed on an initial shot, Sutter flashed through the crease and teed it up for a second chance that Tlusty buried over Thomas’ shoulder. The two-goal lead was restored.
“It’s huge. We finally got a bounce, it seems,” Sutter said later. “You know, we’ve had some chances the last couple of games. We’re not really expected to be 50-goal scorers out there but we can put the puck in the net.”
Three minutes later, the Bruins answered with an extra attacker on for a delayed penalty call, showing remarkable patience and movement. They also caught a break when a Seidenberg shot shattered Dwyer’s stick—if his stick stays whole, the referee whistles the play dead. But play continued and a whirling Bergeron flung a perfect diagonal pass all the way across the zone for a Marchand one-timer that Ward could only watch.
Boston had several good chances before pulling Thomas, but Ward was agile and sharp. He flung himself into the air from the seat of his pants to get a skate on a Seidenberg shot with under two minutes left. But Carolina handled the extra attacker once Thomas skated off, clamping down in the Boston zone and forcing defensemen to stand in front of their goal to prevent an empty-netter.
After Staal won a crucial neutral zone faceoff with fourteen seconds left, he rushed the puck up the boards and drew a tripping penalty that some thought should have resulted in an automatic goal for the Canes. In any case, the final tally was 3-2 and the home fans celebrated.
The Canes take their momentum to Buffalo on Friday to kick off a four-game road trip concluding with their first regular-season visit to Winnipeg on Oct. 22. The next home tilt is Oct. 25 versus the Ottawa Senators.