Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor
BOSTON -- Once again, Carolina made the necessary adjustments and, as a result, the Cardiac 'Canes have wrested home-ice advantage away from a higher-seeded opponent.
Sunday night, in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at TD Banknorth Garden, Carolina did everything right against Boston that it had done wrong 48 hours earlier in a disheartening Game 1 loss. The Hurricanes added a few new wrinkles to their game and Cam Ward responded with a 36-save performance and his fourth career playoff shutout.
The result was a convincing 3-0 victory that not only handed Boston its first loss of the postseason, but also turned this best-of-7 series on its ear, as Carolina now heads home for Game 3 even up with the top-seeded Bruins.
Carolina has become the king of on-the-fly adjustments in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Four times in these playoffs, the Hurricanes have lost a game -- twice in emphatic fashion. Each time, they have responded with a victory the next time they take the ice.
Carolina coach Paul Maurice and his staff have been able to implement changes in the game plan to counter the things an opponent is doing well, while also eradicating much of what the Hurricanes are doing poorly.
Sunday, they were a markedly different team than the one that lost 4-1 in the series opener. Not only did Carolina have some new lines, but it had a new mindset.
"We were more competitive on the puck, especially in some of the darker areas on the ice," Maurice said.
Yes, Carolina's jam -- if you will -- was much more pronounced Sunday night. The Hurricanes battled in the corners and in the slot -- the "darker areas" Maurice referenced -- with a ferocity not evident in Game 1.
But they were also smarter in Game 2.
There were far fewer neutral-zone turnovers to start, which took away much of Boston's deadly-effective transition game. Then, there was also much more emphasis in getting the puck to the defensive points to generate offense, something Carolina virtually ignored in Game 1. Finally, the penalty kill was much more effective. Not only did it kill all four Boston power plays, but Matt Cullen scored a shorthanded goal -- the first special-teams goal Boston has allowed in the playoffs.
Joe Corvo opened the scoring at the 2:30 mark of the second period by hammering home a seeing-eye slapper off a feed from Eric Staal, who added the empty-net goal with 27.1 seconds remaining.
Staal had a goal and an assist Sunday night after being held off the score sheet in Game 1. Sunday, he was paired with a variety of wingers. He opened the game between Ray Whitney and Erik Cole, but then he spent considerable time flanked by Sergei Samsonov and Tuomo Ruutu. Chad LaRose also saw some time riding shotgun for Staal.
All of that line juggling was done to present different looks for Boston to counter -- Maurice also did it to light a fire under some of his players, and he liked what he saw.
"I felt what we did off the bench had no impact in the game," Maurice said. "You can do that all you want and if the players don't sweat, don't compete, don't battle, it just doesn't matter. I think at the end of the day we still had similar matchups in a lot of areas, but our fight level was a little greater."
Staal agreed, noting that he was still usually matched against Boston defensemen Zdeno Chara and Aaron Ward virtually every time he took a shift.
"It was simple things," Staal said when asked about Carolina's transformation Sunday night. "We got the puck behind their D, we worked it low, we got it back to our defensemen and took some points shots. When they started to take that away, we got it back down low and started to attack the net.
"I just thought we competed very hard and fought for the win."
Obviously, it also helped that Ward was on top of his game, finishing with 36 saves -- including 16 in the third period when Boston was exerting sustained pressure throughout. Ward's leg-pad save on Michael Ryder was the highlight of the third-period exhibition of the form that won him the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP.
"It kind of came out of the pile and I didn't think he knew where the puck was, and I tried to throw it and I guess he did; he kicked his leg out and made a great save," said Ryder, who has a team-high five goals for Boston. "He definitely made a lot of big saves and kept the score 2-0 for the longest time there."
Now, Boston will have to do the adjusting when Game 3 arrives Wednesday night before a rabid full house in Raleigh.
"You can't expect to go through the playoffs winning every game," Ryder said. "It's our first loss of the playoffs, so we can't get too down on ourselves. We gotta make sure we go to Carolina and try to get one back."
Carolina's penalty kill to close the second period was the backbreaker for Boston. The Bruins had decent chances from Zdeno Chara and Michael Ryder, each turned aside by Cam Ward's stick. Ward also gloved a dangerous puck that had ticked off Jussi Jokinen's skate. Finally, Rod Brind'Amour and Chad LaRose blocked shots on the kill with LaRose's block setting off the chain of events that led to LaRose almost scoring with three seconds left in the period.
Carolina defenseman Joni Pitkanen drew the toughest assignments Sunday night, often up against Boston's top line. He responded in impeccable fashion, playing more than nine minutes a period. He had three shots, blocked two others and laid three hits. He was an even rating for the game.
When Matt Cullen scored his shorthanded goal at 7:32 of the second period to give Carolina a 2-0 lead, it marked the first time in these playoffs that Boston has been down by more than one goal. Amazingly Boston had been behind by one goal just twice in the first five games of the postseason.
Carolina had lost its past five meetings with the Bruins, dating back to the regular season by a combined score of 22-7 before securing the 3-0 win in Sunday night's Game 2.
One night after goalie Cam Ward set the franchise record for playoff appearances by a goalie, captain Rod Brind'Amour set the franchise mark for playoff appearances by a skater. Sunday's Game 2 appearance was No. 150 for Brind'Amour in the postseason. It was No. 63 with the Hurricanes, one more than the mark set by Ron Francis, who is now the team's associate head coach.
1 - 0 CAR
2 - 0 CAR
3 - 0 CAR
Delaying Game-Puck over glass