Starting with a charming rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner by Katherine Fritsch – with the obligatory “RED!” chant from the Carolina faithful – there was an air of electricity inside the RBC Center prior to puck drop for Game 3 of the Hurricanes-Bruins conference semifinal.
Even with more than 800 miles separating center ice and my viewing perch, the feeling that something special was about to play out was almost palpable. And in no way, shape or form did the contest disappoint.
With the Caniacs in full throat to provide the ideal backdrop, this game had something for fans of all palates: Free-flowing hockey with an absence of momentum-smothering penalties? Check. Borderline bodychecks and a healthy dose of attempts to send a message, if not injure? Check. Tactical coaching with frantic line changes in an attempt to gain the slightest of edge? Check. Sublime displays of skills from some of the game’s top young talent? Check.
And, of course, goaltending performances that would have Bill Durnan smiling down from above. Double check.
Despite taking the loss, Tim Thomas proved why the Vezina Trophy belongs on his mantle, turning away 38 shots; many of which registered on the above-average side of the scale and the best of which was a spin-o-rama stick save midway through the first.
At the other end, Ward, coming off a 3-0 shutout in Game 2, deserves full marks for notching his sixth win of the playoffs. While he wasn’t tested nearly as much as Thomas, Ward was once again there whenever the Canes needed him and is looking more and more like the goalie who led his team to a Stanley Cup championship and snagged the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy in the process.
But the story of this game was – and stop me if you’ve heard this before – the dramatic heroics of Jussi Jokinen.
Jokinen, who scored with 0.2 seconds left in Game 5 and with just more than a minute remaining in Game 7 against the Devils, was at it again Wednesday by scoring the OT-winner.
The 26-year-old, undervalued as merely a shootout specialist early in his career, has been an invaluable addition to the 2008-09 playoff version of the Canes.
Picked up from the Lightning for a bag of pucks named Wade Brookbank and Josef Melichar, the Jokinen swap was exactly the type of under-the-radar pre-deadline deal that smart GMs make. And Jim Rutherford is a smart GM.
It isn’t simply that the Finn has found himself in the right place at the right time, his five goals is second on the team and only two short of his season total over 71 games. He’s not quite in John Druce-territory yet, but each playoff – and each Stanley Cup champion – needs an unheralded hero. It’s looking more and more like Jokinen wants that 2009 crown.
So what now for the Bruins? After watching the only team that finished ahead of them in the regular season, the San Jose Sharks, fall to a lower seed, collars must be getting tighter among the Boston brass and Game 4 has to be viewed as a must-win.
The Bruins have to find a way to get more pucks at Ward – they only had 23 shots on goal in Game 3 – and disrupt his too-often-calm crease. The Carolina goalie has been masterful in his rebound control and for Boston to change that they need to send men to the dirty areas and make passes to get Ward moving laterally before releasing shots. Too often in this series Ward has had a clear view and if he can see it, he’s going to stop it.
NOTES: The Hurricanes are 8-1 in their past nine playoff series… Mark Recchi and Sergei Samsonov each scored their first playoff goals since 2006, when Recchi scored for the Hurricanes and Samsonov for the Oilers in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final… The Carolina franchise is 3-3 historically when leading a series 2-1; Boston is 6-21 when falling behind 2-1… The Bruins have never lost a post-season series to Carolina/Hartford (3-0).
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Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Thursdays.
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