After years of struggles, it appears the Boston Bruins have finally figured out how to win in overtime or a shootout. Neither may be necessary if the Carolina Hurricanes play the same way they did in the first two games of their road trip.
The surging Bruins seek their sixth win in seven games in a holiday weekend matinee Friday when they face the Hurricanes at TD Banknorth Garden.
Since the overtime loss became worth a point in the standings in the 1999-2000 season, Boston (9-8-2) has suffered an NHL-high 52 losses in overtime or the shootout. Only five teams have even as many as 40 such defeats.
However, the Bruins' fortunes have changed during their current hot streak. Boston has won five of its last six games, with the last four of those victories coming in games that were tied after regulation.
On Wednesday, Marco Sturm scored both in regulation and the shootout, and Tim Thomas stopped all three shootout attempts he faced as the Bruins won 4-3 at Pittsburgh.
"I find if I lose a shootout, I feel devastated," Thomas said. "If I win I feel like I did what I'm supposed to do. Shootouts are a lot like poker - there's some skill involved, but it's a whole lot of luck."
After losing five of his first seven starts while posting a 3.73 goals-against average, Thomas has each of Boston's last five wins, compiling a 2.22 GAA in that span. He is 1-1-1 with a 2.94 GAA in three career starts against Carolina, all coming last season.
While Thomas has helped lead Boston's resurgence, a former Bruins goalie may have prevented a bad Hurricanes (12-9-3) loss from becoming more embarrassing and lopsided Wednesday. John Grahame, who played for Boston from 1999-2003, made 44 saves in a 4-2 defeat to the New York Islanders.
Grahame was continually challenged in the contest, which saw New York outshoot Carolina 20-1 in the first period and 48-15 in the game.
It was the second poor performance in as many nights for the Hurricanes, who dropped the opener of their three-game road trip 4-0 to the Rangers on Tuesday.
"John Grahame was great. He kept us in the game," Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette said. "I don't think anybody (else) played well. This is unacceptable. This was a terrible game. After (Tuesday) night, I thought we would show more fight."
Regular starting goalie Cam Ward will likely be back between the pipes Friday for the Hurricanes. He went 1-1 with a 3.55 GAA in two starts versus the Bruins last season.
This is the first meeting of the season for these franchises, which were division rivals until the Hartford Whalers relocated to Carolina before the 1998-99 season.
The Hurricanes have enjoyed great success at Boston since the move, going 10-3 with one tie at TD Banknorth Garden. Carolina won three of four meetings in last season's series - one of two on the road.