RALEIGH, N.C. -- It wasn't the fireworks finale to a smashing road show they had envisioned, but more importantly to the Bruins last night was the fact they avoided a sour note that could have spoiled all their splendid work of the previous two-plus weeks.
Surely, in other circumstances, the 3-3 tie against the floundering Carolina Hurricanes would have left the Bruins dismayed, but coming at the tail end of a seven-game, 18-day journey, it was hard to find anyone in Black and Gold turning down the point. Not after they had committed more defensive lapses in the opening 20 minutes than they had in 20 days. Not after they had been outshot, 37-28. And certainly not after they had trailed three times, including 3-2 with 7:57 to play.
It took Brian Rolston, set up beautifully by Jiri Slegr, just 38 seconds to get the equalizer and it took Andrew Raycroft's brilliance over the next 12:19 of regulation and overtime to secure what might be the most satisfying point the team has earned in some time. Surely, that is what came through as the team dressed for a long-awaited return home.
"Being on the road as long as we have been," said Glen Murray, who continued his sizzling pace with a pair of goals, "we're happy to get the point."
Happy being a relative term, mind you, because while the tie allowed the team to conclude its road trip at 4-0-1-2, giving the Bruins 11 of 14 points, it was hardly a performance they were proud of.
"We've been playing pretty strong on this road trip, but we came out flat tonight," said Rolston. "We have to understand what happened tonight -- and we do understand."
Certainly, the Bruins understand that the foundation of their recent play has been solid team defense, only it was nowhere to be found in the first period. Defensive breakdowns and mental lapses led to pressure on Raycroft, and two glaring miscues led to goals, but coach Mike Sullivan was a study in calm perspective when it was over.
"On the first [goal], those things happen," said Sullivan. "Fortunately for us, they don't happen too often."
It was a collision between Bruins defensemen Dan McGillis and Hal Gill as they chased a loose puck at their blue line that led to Josef Vasicek's solitary effort on Raycroft, and the 23-year-old Czech buried the opportunity for his 16th of the season. Chances like that don't come around very often, but in Vasicek's case, another appeared before the period ended, and again it was courtesy of a defensive lapse.
This time, Nick Boynton tried to whip the puck around the boards, only as it reached Martin Lapointe at the circle, it caromed wildly toward center ice. Anticipating a breakout, Rolston had headed up ice, but as he reached back to control the puck, it was redirected to Vasicek, who hadn't seen anything this good since Christmas mornings as a kid. He moved in on Raycroft and put a shot on net. It was left for the ageless Ron Francis to slam home the rebound for his eighth of the year and 544th of his career to tie the legendary Maurice "Rocket" Richard for 20th place in NHL hierarchy.
"Our play with the puck in our own end was loose," said Sullivan. "But it got better as the game went on."
Fortunately for Sullivan, his team's resiliency was in form because it took the Bruins very little time to counter each Hurricane strike.
Murray, who had finished off brilliant passing from Mike Knuble and Joe Thornton to tie the game, 1-1, at 11:31, needed just 41 seconds to answer Francis's goal. Again, it was Thornton setting things in motion.
"All I have to do is get open, because he has such great vision," said Murray, who took a blue line-to-blue line pass from Thornton and split the Hurricane defense to notch the power-play effort at 17:26. It was his 27th of the season and ran his numbers to 15-5--20 over the last 16 games.
After a scoreless second period, the Bruins fell behind, 3-2, at 12:03 of the final frame when Erik Cole came in and put home the rebound of Craig Adams's hard work, and for a brief moment, there was the hollow thought that a loss would wipe away the good vibes of wins in Toronto and Philadelphia. Make that 38 moments, because that's how long it took Rolston to finish off a play that began with P.J. Axelsson's heady work in his own end.
Axelsson dished to Slegr and the two-on-one was textbook, Rolston (No. 18) adding the exclamation point with a shot high over Kevin Weekes's glove hand.
Still, it was left to Raycroft (34 saves, including three gems in overtime) to secure a point that was not lost on Rolston. Peering ahead to the final 20 games of the season, 12 of which are at the FleetCenter, Rolston nodded his head.
"We've got to establish something at home," he said. "Because, obviously, we're confident on the road."