BOSTON – Matt Hunwick had one request for his Bruins teammates before heading back to the penalty box at the start of the second period.
“I said, “Hey, boys. Kill this one for me,'” the Boston defenceman said after watching as the Bruins scored three short-handed goals in 64 seconds to beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2 on Saturday and clinch a playoff berth.
“That was crazy,” Hunwick said. “You never want to take penalties, but they responded great. You’d like to be out there and be a part of it.”
With 89 points, the Bruins secured the No. 6 in the Eastern Conference playoffs after the Montreal Canadiens lost in overtime to Toronto on Saturday night. Boston will face New Jersey or Buffalo in the first round of the playoffs.
“We knew it was going to be a dogfight to the end,” forward Blake Wheeler said. “We’ve had the mentality that it’s been a playoff game pretty much here for the last few weeks. And I think we really thrived under that sort of mentality and been playing some pretty good hockey lately.”
The Bruins fired 18 shots at Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward in the first period, but they went into the break tied 0-0 and down a man, thanks to Hunwick’s hooking penalty with 18 seconds left in the first.
When they came out for the second, Daniel Paille, Wheeler and Steve Begin scored to make it 3-0, forcing Carolina coach Paul Maurice to call a timeout to settle his team down.
It was the first time in NHL history that a team has scored three times while short-handed on the same penalty, the Bruins said. The Winnipeg Jets scored four short-handed goals against Vancouver on April 7, 1995, the only time a team has scored more than three in a game since 1964-65.
“We made the book,” Begin said with a laugh. “I heard they’re going to put us on the power play now.”
Oddly, the Bruins haven’t scored with a man-advantage in their last 22 tries over seven games. They had just three short-handed goals all season before Saturday.
“Things got away from us on our back end, and then you saw some unusual decisions,” Maurice said. “Quite frankly, I’m surprised we haven’t seen that a lot more. We had a lot of young guys back there.”
Milan Lucic added an empty-netter with a minute left, and Tuukka Rask stopped 33 shots for Boston.
Ward made 38 saves for the Hurricanes, who ended their season without making the playoffs one year after reaching the Eastern Conference finals. Carolina knocked the Bruins out of the post-season in the conference semifinals last year with an overtime victory in Game 7 in Boston.
“It’s kind of how things went this year,” forward Erik Cole said. “It’s kind of disappointing.”
Bruins fans rose to their feet and waved yellow towels for the final 30 seconds, cheering for the team that had come into the season with high expectations before being cut down by injuries. A year after finishing first in the East – and getting eliminated in the second round by Carolina – the Bruins had to scrape for the final month to even make the playoffs.
They came through, winning four of their last six games.
“We want to finish as high as possible,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien, whose team ends the regular season in Washington on Sunday. “People will remember us as a team for how we finish, not how we start.”
Needing only one more point – an overtime loss would have done it – the Bruins broke out to snap a scoreless tie after Hunwick was sent off.
Paille chased the puck down in the Hurricanes’ end and brought it across the goal mouth before shooting back and into the net, between Ward’s legs. Thirty-nine seconds later, Wheeler scored from the slot. And then off the ensuing faceoff Dennis Wideman made a long pass to Begin, who put in a wrist shot from the left circle.
Carolina came back when Cole scored on a wraparound with 5:30 left in the second period. Patrick Dwyer made it a one-goal game on a wrist shot from the slot 2:36 later.
Boston had an apparent power-play goal waved off with 1:20 left in the second when the referee blew the whistle early on a loose puck.
But none of that was the strangest part of the game.
About three minutes into the third period, the Bruins had the puck in the Hurricanes’ zone when a delayed penalty was called and they pulled Rask. But an errant pass by Wheeler came out of the zone, bounced off the boards at centre ice and headed toward the empty net.
Patrice Bergeron, who was the extra skater when the goalie was pulled, turned and raced after it, swiping it off the goal-line to avert an empty-net own goal that would have tied it 3-3.
“It was going right for the net, so I started going as fast as I could,” he said. “There’s the ‘Not top 10 plays’ on ESPN, and I just didn’t want to be on there.”
NOTES: Begin’s goal was his 100th career point. … This was the first time the Bruins have had two short-handed goals on the same penalty since Steve Kasper scored two in Toronto on Jan. 9, 1985. … Carolina finished the season 35-37-10. But the team that opened the season 2-12-4 had the second-most points in the conference since midseason. … Paille’s goal was his first in 22 days. … C.J. Young, who played 43 games in the NHL in 1992-93 and was a teammate of Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli at Harvard, scored three short-handed goals in a 49-second span against Dartmouth on Dec. 12. 1988.