Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor RALEIGH, N.C. -- It's now hard to deny that Carolina has something special cooking this postseason.
Carolina has overcome too many deficits, scored too many last-second goals and won too many games it could have lost to be deemed a fluke any more.
On Wednesday night, the Hurricanes shook off a game-tying goal by Boston midway through the third period to score an overtime winner, off the magical stick of Jussi Jokinen, for a 3-2 victory over Boston in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series. The win gives the sixth-seeded Cardiac 'Canes a 2-games-to-1 lead over the Eastern Conference-champion Bruins -- the top seed remaining in the tournament.
Carolina coach Paul Maurice is famous for keeping an even keel, but even he had to admit there's something special going on with his team. As a coach, he knows that belief can be as powerful, if not more powerful, than individual talent or tactical systems.
"I think there is a belief built in and you have a tendency to keep the faith a little bit longer," Maurice said. "But the fact of the matter is the teams that don't (believe), they are already gone. That's how it works; the teams that believe the longest keep playing."
How could the Hurricanes not believe? Consider this evidence.
Carolina escaped the first round by erasing a 3-2 deficit in the final 80 seconds of Game 7, receiving goals from Jokinen and Eric Staal in a 48-second span. Earlier in the series against New Jersey, Jokinen scored the game-winner with :00.2 seconds left in regulation.
Jokinen, a midseason waiver acquisition from Tampa Bay, has just six regular-season game-winning goals -- only one this season -- in an NHL career that dates to 2005. He has two in 10 playoff games this postseason.
The evidence is so compelling that Boston coach Claude Julien admitted the hockey gods appeared to intervene on the part of the Hurricanes. He believed his team did not play well enough to earn the 2-2 tie it had after regulation and, as a result, didn't deserve to win.
So he said he was not surprised that Carolina goalie Cam Ward made four saves in the first two minutes of overtime, weathering Boston's initial surge until Jokinen scored on a counterattack at 2:48
"We had some great chances, but there is such a thing we call 'hockey gods.' and sometimes they will give the breaks to the team that deserves it," Julien said. "Unfortunately, we didn't deserve this game the way we played."
Boston was outshot 41-23, but that told only part of the story of this domination. If not for the stellar work of goalie Tim Thomas -- who had no chance on Jokinen's game-winner, a rebound swat-back of a Sergei Samsonov shot that Thomas says he never saw -- Boston could have lost by the same three-goal margin that Carolina prevailed by in Game 2; a 3-0 shutout that turned this series on its ear.
The Bruins lost most of the individual battles in this game. They were beaten to 50-50 pucks regularly, they were pinned in their own end for long periods because of their inability or unwillingness to chip the puck to safety, and they made at least a dozen turnovers after taking a 1-0 lead on Milan Lucic's first-period goal.
"They are playing like the hungrier team right now," Thomas said. 'For most of this year, even during the regular season, we were the hungrier team and that is why we got a lot of our victories. For example, in the Montreal series you could just kind of tell we wanted it more. Right now, Carolina's looking like they want it more.
"It's not what I expected, you know."
One of those turnovers led to Eric Staal's game-tying power-play goal with 3:11 left in the second period; another triggered Samsonov's go-ahead tally 1:09 later.
Boston also didn't plan on running into a Cinderella story in the second round. No top-seeded team ever does. After all, there should be a reason that Boston finished 19 points ahead of Carolina in the regular-season standings, right?
Maybe, but the playoffs are a different story -- especially when a team gets hot like Carolina is right now.
Ward has been on this magic-carpet ride before -- he led the 'Canes all the way to the Stanley Cup title in 2006 -- so he knows when something special is happening. He won't say that 2009 is starting to feel a lot like 2006.
"I think it's important that you don't get caught up in it," he said.
But it's becoming harder by the minute to deny something special is happening with this Carolina club. They'll try to keep the magic going in Game 4 on Friday night.
Clearly, it was the 90-plus second shift by Carolina that led to the tying goal in the second period. The Eric Staal line got the Bruins running around in their own end -- with Zdeno Chara just having gone off the ice for a breather -- and held the puck for more than 90 seconds without allowing Boston to get a full change. On the shift, Erik Cole had a takeaway and three hits and Ray Whitney had three shots on goal. Finally, Michael Ryder took an interference penalty, likely out of sheer exhaustion, and Staal scored on the back end of the ensuing power play.
Carolina's Scott Walker is known more for his grittiness than his play-making ability, but he made a sweet pass to Sergei Samsonov on a 3-on-2 rush to set up Carolina's second goal. But, Walker also supplied the jam for which he is counted upon, delivering a team-high six hits in the first 40 minutes.
The Bruins were forced to play the third period with just five defensemen when Andrew Ference could not continue after the second period. Ference played in the first two-plus games of this series after being out from April 4 to May 1 with a lower-body injury.
Until Carolina erased the 1-0 lead Boston nursed until late into the second period of Game 3, the Bruins had not blown an in-game lead in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, a stretch of time that covered 396 minutes and 49 seconds of game play against both Montreal and Carolina. Boston was also 3-0 in these playoffs when leading in the first period, as it did Wednesday night.
Milan Lucic's goal at the 8:43 mark of the first period snapped Cam Ward's shutout streak of 81 minutes and 22 seconds that began after he allowed a goal by Marc Savard at the 7:21 mark of the third period in Game 1.
1 - 0 BOS
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 CAR
2 - 2 Tie
1st OT Period
3 - 2 CAR
Interference - Goalkeeper