Visitors knocked the wind out of the Hurricanes
RALEIGH, N.C. - For nearly three months, the Carolina Hurricanes enjoyed a home-ice advantage as sweet as the iced tea served in these parts.
On the edge of playoff qualification, the Hurricanes found their sweet spot after a mid-February loss to the Bruins, winning 16 of their next 18 games in the RBC Center, including four of five in the playoffs.
Until the first five minutes last night, when everything went sour for the red-sweatered home team.
The Bruins brought their own storm to Carolina, scoring two quick goals and never letting up, despite every attempt by the home team and the home crowd to make a game of it.
The Hurricanes, once up, three games to one, in the best-of-seven series, now look like a sputtering bunch as they head to Boston for tomorrow night's Game 7. Though they showed some fight in the third period of the 4-2 loss, they barely resembled the squad that won Games 2, 3, and 4 in this series.
When Matt Cullen scored on assists from Chad LaRose and Scott Walker early in the second period, breaking a shutout streak of 87:08 by Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, it seemed Carolina had the momentum. The crowd was back on its feet.
But the Bruins silenced the building just as quickly, scoring twice in the period for a 4-1 lead. Carolina, which looked so dominant in a 4-1 home victory in Game 4 last Friday night, suddenly was making sloppy passes, giving Boston more shooting lanes, and looking like the tentative bunch that was thoroughly beaten by the Bruins in four regular-season meetings (aggregate: 18-6).
"We thought at 2-1 we were there and really came out and got us back in the game, but we didn't move the puck the way we need to move it to beat that team," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said.
The third period was different for Carolina, but Boston, especially Thomas, remained airtight.
Former Bruin Sergei Samsonov gave the Hurricanes a sliver of hope, scoring with 12:40 left to cut it to 4-2. Less than a minute later, Tuomo Ruutu drew a penalty on Steve Montador, and Carolina had an opportunity to revive its anemic power play.
Three saves by Thomas, two in quick succession against Eric Staal, kept Carolina off the board. Boston then killed off a delay-of-game penalty, dropping Carolina's extra-man success rate in the playoffs to 10.9 percent (5 for 46).
Though the Hurricanes outshot the Bruins, 14-4, in the final 20 minutes, they had little to show for it, except for the optimistic view that it can carry over that period into Game 7. There was similar optimism after the 4-0 loss in Game 5, with some players saying it was easier to shrug off a defeat that wasn't close. But two in a row? That's not so easy, especially with home ice back on the Bruins' side.
"Give them credit. I thought they deserved both of these wins," Ruutu said. "We have another chance, and we're going to tell ourselves, 'Carpe diem.' It's all or nothing right now."
That's the way the Bruins have played the past two games, the way Carolina figured it would play in front of a home crowd of 18,680, many of whom basked for hours in the sunshine before the game, playing horseshoes or lighting up portable grills. Every playoff game here is a party in the tree-lined parking lots, and the home fans thought they would see the end of this second-round chapter.
Boston quickly silenced most in the building, getting goals from Mark Recchi and Montador before some of the tailgating crew had stashed their canopies back into their SUVs and made their way into the arena.
That home-sweet-home feeling? Gone in an instant. "Brutal" is how defenseman Tim Gleason described the start.
"They got four goals in our building, and that's obviously too much," Ruutu said. "Now, backs are against the wall for both teams. We shouldn't think too much. We should just go out and play."
And therein lies the problem for sixth-seeded Carolina: avoiding the negative thoughts of what went wrong against a team that suddenly is playing like the top seed in the Eastern Conference again.
As in the previous series, against third-seeded New Jersey, the Hurricanes will need some Game 7 road magic to play another day back in Raleigh.