The instant after Matt Hunwick crunched Justin Williams with a questionable open-ice hit late in the second period, the Bruins rookie defenseman understood that the Hurricanes would be seeking retribution.
"As soon as I made that hit, I knew I'd basically have to fight," said the four-year University of Michigan standout.
After giving the Bruins a fight in the game's opening minutes, the Hurricanes were done in by some soft goaltending from Cam Ward and a subsequent dip in the team's compete level, which triggered a five-goal outburst and a 5-1 Boston win before 17,565 at TD Banknorth Garden yesterday.
"We won't be bragging about that game," said Carolina coach Paul Maurice.
It took Hunwick's hit, which came with the Bruins holding a 5-0 lead, for the Hurricanes to respond. First, forward Matt Cullen tackled Hunwick. Then Williams took the matter into his own hands, tugging the defenseman out of Cullen's grasp to kick off Hunwick's first fight as an NHLer.
"It's funny," said Shawn Thornton, the Bruins' designated tough guy. "We were just talking this afternoon. He was like, 'I haven't had one yet. I've got to mix one in one day.' We were just joking around. Then, sure enough . . ."
Williams, peeved about the hit and probably even more frustrated with his club's no-show effort, was looking to jack up his teammates by taking on Hun wick.
"We were too soft," Williams said. "They did what they wanted to do with us. They pushed us off pucks in the offensive zone. They battled and got their sticks on pucks in our defensive zone. We lost those areas in front of our net and that was the difference. They got out to an early lead and rolled from there."
During the fight, Williams, popped by a sneaky Hunwick right to the temple, found himself tumbling to the ice at 17:14 of the second period.
"I was happy for him," said Tim Thomas of Hunwick, who was left with several cuts around his left eye. "Cullen was all over his back. He turns to fight him, then somebody else jumps him. To stay in there and ultimately win the fight, I was proud of him."
"You're not going to let a guy beat on you," said Hunwick. "You have to defend yourself at some point."
The Bruins won just about every fight against the stumbling Hurricanes. Thomas (29 saves) outperformed Ward (9 stops), who was yanked by Maurice after allowing his third goal - and second softie - at 3:27 of the second period when he sat back and neglected to reposition himself, leaving Mark Stuart to wing in his fourth goal of the year.
The Bruins countered Carolina's aggressive two-man forecheck and had numbers going up the ice, getting odd-man rushes with too many Hurricanes caught out of position.
And while Zdeno Chara, matched against Eric Staal, helped to suck all the life out of Carolina's franchise pivot, the Hurricanes had no answer for David Krejci, who is making his case to be included among the league's elite playmaking centers.
In the first period, Krejci beat Ward with a backhand power-play strike for the game's opening goal. Stephane Yelle closed out the first with his sixth goal when a Stuart shot was tipped by Martins Karsums, then deflected off the center's right boot past Ward at 17:21.
After Stuart chased Ward at 3:27 of the second, Krejci backhanded a pass in the slot for Michael Ryder to hammer home through relief netminder Michael Leighton at 7:20. Krejci capped his 3-point day with a between-the-legs dish for Ryder to slide past Leighton at 16:05 of the second.
"He's a skilled player," Chara said of Krejci (16-30 -46). "He can make moves. He can score goals. He played a very strong game."
The Krejci-led offense came against a scrappy Carolina club that had given the Bruins a good test last month at the RBC Center. Yesterday, the Bruins had Byron Bitz making his NHL debut. Karsums dressed for only his second big-league game. The Hurricanes kept the scoring line of Chuck Kobasew, Marc Savard, and Phil Kessel off the board.
None of that mattered, as the Bruins looked like a dominant team, shaking off any lingering concerns from their back-to-back losses against Minnesota and Buffalo.
"Sometimes when your team is executing well, it makes the other team look not as good," said coach Claude Julien, whose guys next face off against the Canadiens Tuesday at the Garden. "If we would have been a little sloppy tonight, they would have looked a lot better and their forecheck would have paid dividends.
"I thought our team was sharp, especially in the early going and throughout the game, and we executed well through their sustained pressure."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.