When he was asked after the Sunday morning skate about Eric Staal’s struggles in Game 1 of the Carolina Hurricanes series against the Boston Bruins, Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice responded in his customary deadpan manner that Staal would be a healthy scratch for Game 2.
Staal looked less-than-stellar in Game 1, but he played like a player who was afraid of being scratched with a monster performance in Game 2. In fact, he did what almost nobody else was able to do all of this season – he made Zdeno Chara look downright ordinary.
In fact, Chara actually looked kind of stinky in Game 2, prompting memories of his days with the Ottawa Senators when Chara was more often than not a 6-foot-9 detriment in the playoffs. In the head-to-head battle between Chara and Staal, the Hurricanes star without a doubt got the better of the day in Game 2 with a key assist on the first goal and the empty-net clincher in a 3-0 victory.
In fact, Sunday’s game between the Bruins and Hurricanes looked an awful lot like a microcosm of the Hurricanes playoff tournament so far this season. They are, without a doubt, the cockroaches of the 2009 post-season because they simply will not die. You would have been excused for thinking the Hurricanes had hit reality head-on after their limp effort in Game 1, but there they were in Game 2, winning almost all the 1-on-1 battles, almost all the races to the pucks, playing inspired hockey and getting a gargantuan performance in goal from Cam Ward, particularly in the third period when the Bruins outshot the Hurricanes 16-3.
All of which makes the Hurricanes more than a little scary. Their power play stinks, their talent level and depth aren’t nearly at the Bruins level and, let’s face it, they’re a reincarnation of the Hartford Whalers, a team that seemed to be star-crossed against the Bruins. But they continue to hang in and now go home for the next two games with the series tied because they continue to play with determination, grit and a dizzyingly high tempo.
Not even a disputed goal that would have given the Hurricanes a 3-0 lead in the final seconds of the second period could dampen the Hurricanes enthusiasm. Countless video reviews failed to conclusively prove the puck crossed the goal line – unless, of course, you believe they did prove it conclusively – so the NHL’s video review crew was unable to overturn the referees’ original call.
None to worry for the Hurricanes, who continue to wear the plucky label proudly through the post-season. What will be interesting now will be how the Staal-Chara confrontation will continue to play out throughout the rest of the series. Boston coach Claude Julien said earlier this season that Chara has an uncanny ability to, “make it hard for everyone on the other team to have success,” and that could have been the case with Staal. It was clear from early in the game that Chara had Staal in his sites and was intent on wearing him down physically.
But instead of breaking Staal’s spirit, Chara appeared to awaken the beast within. The next move now belongs to the man who will almost certainly win the Norris Trophy this season as the NHL’s best defenseman.
Let the epic battle continue.
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Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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