In Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinals, the Boston Bruins pushed Carolina around the ice.
In Game 2, the Hurricanes pushed back. They earned a 3-0 win as a result, and carried home ice advantage back to Raleigh.
It's a long way to four wins, but after dropping the opener, Carolina coach Paul Maurice appears to have a template for beating the favored Bruins. No surprise that it comes down to effort.
"First and foremost, we were more competitive on the puck and in some of the darker areas of the ice," said Maurice, who was critical of his team's inability to match Boston's intensity in the opener. "Sometimes in the playoffs we feel like it was either all bad or all good, and I don't think either was true. But tonight as a group, [we] competed a little harder and that was the difference for our team."
It was clear Carolina had the jump from the drop of the puck. Eric Staal instigated a jostling match with Boston's Patrice Bergeron that set the tone for the team and himself. Staal, who was held in check by Zdeno Chara in Game 1, performed like a player with something to prove. Though the stats crew credited him with just two hits, he probably had three times as many. Playing with a variety of linemates over the course of the night in order to escape Chara's constant oversight, Staal was the game's dominant skater. He was physical, he was smart with the puck down low and was unfazed by the attention paid him by Boston's captain.
"I just focused on my game," Staal said. "If he wants to be physical, I'll just get up as quickly as I can and get back in the play. Hopefully it tires him out as much as me."
The Bruins failed to get the defensive match-up they wanted as often as they did in Game 1, primarily as a result of Maurice and his mid-game tinkering. Not that the coach was willing to accept any credit.
"If the players don't compete, don't battle, it doesn't matter," he said. "We won because our fight level was a little bit greater."
Seems simple, but that's what this series has to come down to from Carolina's perspective. All due respect to their strong finish, but the regular-season results don't lie. Talent-wise, they aren't good enough to beat the Bruins... but sweat is the great equalizer. Now that they've seen the payoff, expect more of the same when the series shifts to Raleigh on Wednesday.
If either team was hoping to find relief for their struggling power plays, it wasn't there to be had on Sunday night. Boston has failed to connect in its last four games, going 0-14. Carolina has just one goal in 26 attempts over their last six contests, but at least they were able to cash in on a short handed opportunity -- one of just two the exceptionally disciplined Bruins have allowed them in the series. Full marks to the aggressive penalty killing of Chad Larose, who picked off Chara's broadcasted pass, got a shot on Thomas, then fought for the loose puck that he eventually fed to Matt Cullen for a shorthanded tally.
That may be the one of the few special-teams goals we see in this series. Both penalty kills are holding the attacking teams to taking their shots from long distance, and when they're not blocking those shots they're ensuring the goalies get a good look at almost everything else. Neither stopper had to deal with much traffic tonight. Look for that to be a key talking point for both sides before Game 3.
The Bruins couldn't take advantage of it. And fortunately, the Hurricanes didn't need it. But it sure looked as though the cardiac Canes had scored another goal in the dying moments of a period, even if the NHL didn't see it that way.
With the final seconds ticking off the clock in the second, Dennis Seidenberg tried to catch the Bruins napping with a long shot from center ice. Tim Thomas handled the bid, but kicked a fat rebound directly into the slot. Chad Larose beat Bergeron to the loose puck and sent a wrister over Thomas' glove hand with .02 seconds on the clock. The shot hit the cross-bar, bounced straight down and skittered on its edge along the goal line. On at least two occasions it appeared to have crossed the line fully, if only briefly.
The call on the ice was no goal and, after a delay so lengthy that the broadcasters probably considered switching to The Million Dollar Movie, it was upheld by officials in the league's war room.
From Maurice's post-game perspective, it was a non-issue.
"When we walked into the room, no one was talking about it," he said. "A couple of the guys said, 'It doesn't matter.' We just keep going forward. I didn't agree with the conclusion, but they went through the proper channels and it is what it is. Over the course of what you hope is a long series, you're going to have calls you like and calls you don't, and I firmly believe they do all even out in the end."
Easy to be gracious in victory. Hard to believe he'd have been as forgiving if the game had turned on the call.
It wasn't just that the Bruins hadn't lost in these playoffs prior to Sunday night. They had never even trailed after a period until after the second stanza in Game 2. No one expected them to go 16-0, but this result was a frustrating drop-off from the first five games in which they'd produced at least four goals and allowed no more than two.
Through the first two periods, the Bruins were widely outworked in the neutral zone, which ground the transition game that earned them victory in Game 1 to a near complete halt. They failed to get enough pressure on Carolina's defenders, which led directly to Joe Corvo's game-winner early in the second. And they were sloppy with the puck. Chara, whose soft blueline pass to Dennis Wideman was intercepted by Larose, was the most obvious offender, but Mark Recchi and Michael Ryder also got the yips with the puck down low with the extra man..
They turned it around in the third, dominating on the cycle and creating several outstanding chances (Ryder will be seeing his foiled power play bid in his sleep), but by then Cam Ward was comfortably in the zone, controlling his rebounds and refusing to allow Boston's forwards second and third chances at the puck.
So how will the B's deal with adversity? "We always preach not getting too high or too low," Thomas said. "We've had practice with not getting too high. Now we'll see if we can avoid getting too low."
Avoiding lulls like that brutal second period would help. But an equally pressing issue is regaining control of the middle of the ice. They had it in Game 1. Carolina had it in Game 2. If they're forced to bang pucks in off the boards and play dump and chase in Game 3, they'll head into Game 4 down 2-1.