Whatever you do, don’t poke the bear.
And if you do, you better finish the job quickly because this is one bear that fights back with great ferocity.
With a 3-1 series lead, the Carolina Hurricanes had poked Boston, the Eastern Conference’s regular season champion, to the brink of playoff elimination, only to see the Bruins come roaring back with a dominant display in Game 5 and now a similarly powerful performance in Game 6, this time by a 4-2 score, and in Raleigh no less.
That’s right: We’re goin’ back to Boston for Game 7, folks. (Take that, Sidney and Alex.)
The Bruins quieted a raucous Canes crowd with a pair of goals, three minutes apart, before Game 6 was barely five minutes old. A pair of trade deadline acquisitions paid timely dividends as veteran Mark Recchi got just enough of a Patrice Bergeron pass – more on Bergeron in a moment – at 2:04 and Steve Montador, with his first as a Bruin at 5:01, scored to put the Bruins in command.
They never looked back.
Oh, sure, Carolina came out chargin’ and looked good in the first half of the second period. Matt Cullen converted a Scott Walker pass (yes, he played, and bruised B’s defenseman Aaron Ward did, too) less than three minutes into the middle frame to re-ignite the home crowd and set the stage for a 10-minute Carolina pressure play.
But the Hurricanes couldn’t whirl another one past Tim Thomas, who made all the big saves when he needed to (easily outshining counterpart Cam Ward in that respect), and the Bruins eventually took back the puck and took back the play – and deposited two more past Ward in the second half of the frame to take a convincing 4-1 lead into the third. (Marc Savard one-timed a beautiful cross-ice pass from Milan Lucic at 8:53, after Phil Kessel and Denis Wideman teamed up for some fine work along the boards and Chuck Kobasew finished a back-door feed from Bergeron – there’s that name again – at 18:53 to put Carolina on the ropes.)
The Canes were game, outshooting Boston 14-4 in the third and 33-19 overall, but Thomas turned in a Vezina-caliber performance, denying them all from Cullen (in the third) to Eric Staal (in the first…and second…and third). As only the (s)portly Bruins goalie can do, Thomas stopped, dropped and flopped his way to another Boston victory.
The Bruins set the tone, however, in those pivotal opening minutes and a shocked-and-awed Carolina spent the rest of the first period trying to shake off the ugly early surprise. But whatever the Canes came up with in their desperate catch-up flurries, there was Boston with a measured, yet pointed reply.
Leading the way was Bergeron’s line, with Recchi and Kobasew, which had a six-point night with two goals and four assists. Bergeron, especially, was the star, setting up both markers with seeing-eye passes and generating a handful of other chances. It was an encouraging showing from a gifted offensive player who has been in a general slump since being slammed into the end boards by Flyers defenseman Randy Jones early in the 2007-08 season. Bergeron missed the rest of ’07-08 with severe concussion symptoms, and scored only eight goals and 39 points in 64 games this year. (In his previous two NHL seasons, pre-concussion, Bergeron scored 53 goals and 143 points in 158 games.) The shifty center still hasn’t scored in the 2009 playoffs, but the pair of helpers gives him five assists in 10 games; more significantly, perhaps he’s finding his form and will be another weapon in the Bruins’ arsenal in Game 7 – and, perhaps, beyond.
Who else? Savard, Lucic and Kessel worked well, as you’d expect, until Savard left the game early in the third period after a knee-on-knee hit with Canes winger Chad LaRose. The good news is, Savard skated off the ice under his own power (when he left the game, that is; Bergeron and a trainer initially helped him to the bench) and you’ve got to believe he’ll be in the lineup for Game 7. His legbone still appeared to be attached to his hipbone, so he’ll play. (OK, I ain’t no medicinal doctor, but I knows what I saws…)
In a game that was fast, physical and featured plenty of scoring chances, the home crowd still found plenty of reasons to be loud despite the early deficit and perpetual rally quest. Carolina’s home-ice advantage is surely one of the biggest – i.e. loudest – in the league, and the Canes won’t find a good pulled pork sandwich in Boston; just a plain ol’ baked potato.
And Carolina is baked, too, if Thomas and the Bruins play in Game 7 anything like they did in Games 5 and 6.
1. Zdeno Chara vs. Eric Staal: Boston wins, so Chara wins. For the first time in these playoffs, Staal had a point – an assist on Sergei Samsonov’s goal at 7:20 of the third – in a loss. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Staal has a goal in every Carolina playoff victory. Better hope he scores on Thursday, then, eh? The Hurricanes, led by Erik Cole, took their runs at Chara, but mostly bounced off of him like he was a sideways Slovak trampoline.
2. Scott Walker vs. Aaron Ward: All was quiet on the riot front. Walker started the game, to Boston’s likely chagrin, and picked up an assist on Cullen’s goal. Ward took a shot at the empty net late in the game, but overshot the gaping cage by a good 30 feet or so, like any good defensive defenseman should. There wasn’t a notable post-whistle scrum until well into the second period and it wasn’t really that notable. Neither team wasted much energy with the cheap stuff and perhaps not coincidentally, the contest was an entertaining and high-flying affair.
3. Boston vs. Jussi Jokinen: After chopping down Chara in Game 5, Jokinen has become a wanted man in Beantown. But with the rough stuff on hiatus, he got away unscathed in Game 6.
4. Tim Thomas vs. Cam Ward: While none of the goals that Ward surrendered were particularly bad, he did end up with four pucks behind him – and a three-goal disadvantage – before the game was two periods old. Carolina’s second-half MVP needs to do better in Game 7 to match Thomas’ stingy play (the Boston goalie leads the playoffs with a sub-2.00 goals-against average).
Show off your hockey knowledge by entering The Hockey News’ FREE Playoff Challenge!
THN.com’s Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.