After starting the season 0-5 against Boston, last night’s game finally proved a few things: the Bruins are beatable, and Zdeno Chara is, despite visual evidence to the contrary, a human being.
Now that those are out of the way, it’s time to get over the David vs. Goliath notion and analyze the big picture. The Canes are not only in this thing, but they managed to steal home ice advantage away from the Bruins. If you don’t think that matters, you haven’t attended a game at the RBC Center recently.
“It’s important being that we hadn’t beaten them yet, but more important that we’re going to need to to win the series,” said Coach Paul Maurice. “You have to learn and you have to build your confidence. When you’re a confident team you’re more resolved, and when you think you can win you’re going to stay in the fight longer.”
Just like in the first round, Carolina put itself in this position by being able to adapt to their opponent. For the most part, it fixed what needed to be fixed after an ugly start, and positive results followed.
“I wondered if we had gotten through that Jersey series and said that Boston is not going to be quite as tough in the neutral zone and it will be a little bit more of an open game,” said Maurice. “The opposite is true. [We] got through the first game and said that we are going to have to go back to work."
It didn’t hurt that Cam Ward was around in the third period to make sure the Canes withstood the Bruins’ attempt at a rally in the third period, when they outshot Carolina 16-3.
“We had a two and half goal lead there going into the third,” said Maurice with a wry smile, referring to Chad LaRose's disallowed goal. “They were going to open their game up, and we were going to learn about what that team does when they try to open up their game and where their game changes. They had some pretty good looks and some power plays, and Cam was just fantastic again.
“He gives you such a sense of confidence when he’s going like that. Even if they beat him once, they probably weren’t going to beat him twice.”
Having won the game, it’s fortunate that the Canes no longer have to worry about the controversial call on LaRose that came with a very familiar 0.2 seconds left on the clock in the second period. Maurice felt it was a goal, but having worked in the NHL’s “war room” prior to re-joining the Hurricanes, has a respect for the process.
“I think everybody would look at that and be pretty sure that puck was over, but there would be one person in the crowd saying, ‘I’m not sure it is,' and that’s got to be the rule,” he said.
“I know most of the guys up there doing it. I used to call them friends,” he added, again with his usual dry sense of humor.
Along with systematic adaptations made by the team between Games 1 and 2, it’s been awfully tough to follow the team’s line combinations recently. Maurice has been putting a lot of faith in his players in trusting that his changes won’t cause confusion or eliminate any kind of chemistry, and so far it has worked. Although they hadn’t played together much during the season, you wouldn’t know it from the way Eric Staal and Ray Whitney have been performing lately.
That being said, I expect things will settle down a little bit in the next two home games. Part of the reason behind the mixing and matching is to keep the opposition on its toes and create match-up problems, which if you can do without disrupting your own team, should be a benefit. On Wednesday and Friday, the Hurricanes control the match-ups at home, so it won’t be as big of an issue.
However, Staal shouldn’t breathe easy quite yet, as Maurice expects the Bruins will find a way to counter with Chara quite regularly, even at the RBC Center.
“He’s a left-handed defenseman who plays left defense, and in this building in the first and third periods he’s very close to his bench for line changes, which just makes it very, very easy” said Maurice. “We won’t be able to get away from him as much as we like at home either.”