Bruins in hostile territory
WILMINGTON - Just over two weeks ago, the Bruins entered hostile territory in Montreal. The Bell Centre, a 21,273-seat terrordome, is so noisy in the playoffs that Bruins goalie Tim Thomas said last year that he felt like a gladiator when he stepped onto the ice for pregame introductions.
Tonight, the Bruins will enter an arena that Aaron Ward said might be even louder than the Bell Centre.
"I think it's probably the loudest," said the ex-Hurricane defenseman. "Montreal is loud. I think Carolina might be the loudest. The sound resonates in there. They cheer like they're at a basketball game. They're up the entire time. They're pretty energetic."
The RBC Center, also home to North Carolina State basketball, draws fans that cheer in a college-like fashion.
"We're going to go into a very loud building, a very energetic building," said Bruins winger Mark Recchi, the other former Hurricane. "It's a place where they play very well. It's a place where we'll have to go and take the momentum back.
"It's going to take a huge effort on everybody's part and a huge commitment on everybody's part. I know the guys are up for it."
After splitting the first two games of this second-round series at TD Banknorth Garden, the Bruins will be looking to swipe at least one of the next matches on enemy ice. While the Carolina crowd aims to be a difference-maker in Games 3 and 4, perhaps the more significant factor is that Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice will have the last change.
"Pucks have to get in deep," said Ward. "When you get an opportunity, you have to get pucks in deep so the change can be made."
In Games 1 and 2, Boston coach Claude Julien could send out Ward and Zdeno Chara to counter Eric Staal, Carolina's No. 1 center and franchise player. Staal started Game 1 centering Ray Whitney and Chad LaRose, while also counting Erik Cole as a linemate when Maurice shuffled his deck halfway through the match. But Staal didn't get much breathing room against Chara and Ward in the Bruins' 4-1 Game 1 victory.
In Game 2, Maurice moved Staal around. He skated with Whitney and Cole, but Maurice also double-shifted Staal with Sergei Samsonov and Tuomo Ruutu on Carolina's fourth line. Staal finally got on the scoresheet Sunday with an assist and an empty-net goal, but the Bruins weren't displeased with their effort against the top-line center.
"The first goal, he was behind the net, threw it out [to defenseman Joe Corvo], we're trying to cover our position, and the shot gets right through," Ward said. "The last goal he got was an empty-netter.
"I think if you have to be really analytical about the situation, you'd have to break down the number of scoring chances they got to get a proper feel of things."
Starting tonight, when there is a whistle, Julien will have to send out his troops first and cede final matchup control to Maurice. If Chara and Ward have been on the ice and require rest, Maurice might be able to sneak Staal and friends out for a rare shift against defensemen other than Julien's top shutdown pairing.
"It's never been an issue for us all year," Julien said. "We're able to change on the fly like any other team. We'll make it work. Simple as that.
"You've got to make it work. It's part of your job as the coach. It's also part of the players' job to stay sharp and to know when and if they have to change."
One factor in Boston's favor is the layout of the RBC Center. At the Garden, Chara, a left-side defenseman, is close to the home bench in the first and third periods, allowing him to hop on and off the ice quickly when matching up against Staal. (In the second period, when the teams change ends, Chara must skate across the ice and go to the far bench to make the change.)
In Raleigh tonight, Chara will also be close to the bench in the first and third periods. Chara will only have the long change in the second period.
"He's very close to his bench for line changes, which makes it very easy," said Maurice. "We won't be able to get away from that as much as we can at home. You say, 'Why can't you get Staal away from him?' That's the way this game works.
"It's the same way we get [defenseman Tim] Gleason and Corvo out, for the most part, against the people we want them to get out against. At the end of the day, most great players have to play against each other.
"We'll do some things to move [Staal] around. But we don't want to take the team totally out of rhythm to do it."