In the end, the man Bostonians considered public enemy No. 1 turned in the highlight-reel performance for the Carolina Hurricanes
in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Thursday at TD Banknorth Garden.
, who might very well be remembered in this series as the player who uncharacteristically dropped the Bruins' Aaron Ward
with a punch on the left side of his face in Game 5 of this best-of-7 series, gave the 17,565 in attendance something else to remember when he scored the game-winning goal in overtime to send the Hurricanes to a 3-2 triumph over the Boston Bruins
and into the conference final against the Pittsburgh Penguins
For Walker, who was inserted on Carolina's top line alongside center Eric Staal
and wing Ray Whitney
, it was a moment he'll remember for a long time.
"I just went to the net and was able to get a poke at it," Walker said. "It's one of the greatest things I've ever been through, hockey-wise, and words can't describe what I'm feeling right now. I was put in a situation (on Thursday) to play with two great players so I didn't have to do a lot of work other than give them the puck. I got in on the forecheck (on the game-winner) and tried to go as quickly as possible. I just basically got to the net and whacked one out of the air."
Whitney, who had the primary assist on the play, was glad to see Walker notch such a big goal considering how hard he worked throughout the course of the game.
"Scotty is an honest player and I really believe he didn't think he'd be in a fight during that Game 5 altercation," Whitney said. "He's a tough player but he's not a dirty player -- all you need to do is look up the stats on him. We realize he's not well-liked around here, but we're very happy for him."
Said Staal: "(Walker) competes every game and he stayed with it and was a big help on our line. We stuck to our game plan and stayed with it, and it was a great effort by everybody and we now have a lot to look forward to."
Carolina coach Paul Maurice
, who decided to place Walker on the top line Thursday morning, went much deeper when discussing the Cambridge, Ont., native.
"It's so much more in what he means to our locker room and what he's faced this year to (score a big goal) like that," Maurice said. "He's just a special person and there isn't a guy loved more in that room than Scotty Walker."
Maurice admitted that it was an organization decision, and not his alone, to have Walker play alongside Staal and Whitney in Game 7.
"I'd like to take credit for it, but all the coaches talked about it in Game 5 actually," Maurice said. "We talked about it as a staff and a decision was made and I can't say it was my idea."
Walker certainly put his heroics aside, however, for a few minutes when he was surrounded by media in front of his stall in the Hurricanes' locker room at the end of the game.
"In the handshake line, I apologized to a few guys who I know play an honest game and every player was extremely classy," Walker said. "I also try to play the game as honest as I can, for the most part, and try to do the best I can. I know that's hard for a few people around here to swallow, but I really do. I played a long time without having an incident like that, and everybody who knows the type of player I am knows that. I'm not proud of what happened (in Game 5) but things happen.
"I'm not going to beat it to death because I said what I said to him out there. But this was one heck of a battle."
When asked if he felt that Bostonians would consider him a villain, Walker shook his head.
"I don't know how long I'm going to be a villain, I'm 36 years old," Walker said. "I have a great deal of respect for the NHL and the Original Six teams and the tradition of the Boston Bruins
. I have a lot of respect for Boston's players and their fans and it's unfortunate what happened but I can't change the past. I'm a pretty honest player, I think, and that's not how I wanted things to happen (in Game 5)."
Boston coach Claude Julien
preferred not to comment on the situation involving Walker or his game-winning goal in Game 7.
"There are no thoughts; I don't want to comment on what happened," Julien said.
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org.