It was just the third home loss for Carolina in its last 19 at the RBC Center. The Hurricanes lost Game 5 in Boston on Sunday night 4-0 and return there in 48 hours to try to move on to the Eastern semifinals against either Washington or Pittsburgh, who play Wednesday night.
The Canes locker room was more upbeat than expected, saying they’re still confident heading into the deciding game, despite being on the road.
“I’m sure a lot of people didn’t expect this series to even go to seven games and were pulling for Boston, so this is exciting, this is the best time of the year,” said defenseman Tim Gleason. “I’m new to this and I’m excited. We could all go out and play right now.”
There is some solace in these consecutive losses. Carolina has won its last three Game 7s, including in the first round at New Jersey and the 2006 Cup finals against Edmonton.
“We’ve got good guys in this room, we’ve got character guys, we’re got guys who can fight and bring their compete level, and that’s all it is in Game 7 is compete and fight and the will to win,” said Eric Staal. “I like our goaltender, I like our team and I like the group of guys we have. We’ll be ready.”
The Carolina defense struggled in its own zone as Boston had four goals on just 15 shots through two periods. And the Canes failed for the first time this playoff season to follow up a loss with a victory. They had done that on four previous occasions, outscoring opponents 13-4.
The Bruins immediately took the RBC Center crowd out of the game with two goals in the opening 5:04 for their second straight 2-0 first-period lead.
Niclas Wallin got caught up ice on the first Boston goal, creating a 2-on-1 that resulted in Mark Recchi’s 50th career playoff goal. The score was reviewed after Anton Babchuk crashed into Ward, dislodging the net, but it was ruled a good Boston goal.
Three minutes later, Ward was screened on a point shot by Steve Montador as Jussi Jokinen and Byron Bitz jostled for position in front of the Carolina goalie.
Carolina dominated the following 15 minutes of the period, generating several top chances on Tim Thomas and drawing a Zdeno Chara holding penalty in the final 30 seconds.
“We came out a little tentative and we needed to be more on the aggressive side of it,” said Staal, who had an assist on Sergei Samsonov’s goal with 12:40 left that gave the Canes some life. “We needed to attack them more. We’ll learn from it and get better in Game 7.”
“We can’t give them those good looks, and we had some good looks and didn’t score,” added Brind’Amour. “But we gave up quality chances, a 2-on-1, and we’ve been talking about that all series, you just can’t do that and it came back to get us.”
The Canes didn’t get much going on the power play to start the second period, but Matt Cullen was able to cash in a little more than a minute after the Chara penalty expired, waiting out Thomas before lifting a high backhander over the Boston goalie.
However, the Bruins jolted the Canes and the crowd once again midway through the second when Marc Savard’s one-timer from the right circle beat Ward, and then Chuck Kobasew added Boston’s fourth goal with less than two minutes remaining in the period.
After the Samsonov third-period goal, Boston took two penalties in a span of 2:30, but the Canes couldn’t break Thomas, who stopped 31 of 33 shots.
“If we got one you never know what could have happened, but we needed to capitalize on that one power play with about nine minutes to go,” Brind’Amour said. “That could have really changed the game, but he made some big saves when he had to.
“This team has been resilient all year. It’s the type of thing where when we have to win we seem to find a way, so obviously the next one is one of those games.”NOTES: Ryan Bayda returned after missing two straight games with the flu. … Carolina is 7-0 when Eric Staal scores in the playoffs and 0-6 when he doesn’t. … Brind’Amour, Cole and Babchuk are still without playoff goals after scoring a combined 50 during the regular season. … Carolina outhit Boston 40-22, with Cole and Tuomo Ruutu registering eight each. … The Canes have won the last seven series that have gone at least six games. … The Hurricanes have killed 15 of 16 penalties at home in the playoffs as Boston was 0-for-2 with the man advantage.