Bruins lean on Thomas to save day
RALEIGH, N.C. — Wanted: Guy wearing white mask. Crime: Stealing 2 points. Future location: Back at RBC Center next weekend for the NHL All-Star Game.
When the Hurricanes were flying, buzzing, shooting, and doing everything else to put pucks into the net in the first 40 minutes of last night’s game, Tim Thomas repeatedly turned them aside. Of the 38 pucks that came hurtling his way over the first two periods, only one found its way behind him.
So after Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic scored third-period goals en route to a 3-2 win before 17,419 at the RBC Center, they thanked their goalie for letting their strikes mean something.
“He was really great,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “I think he deserves a lot of credit for the win. When we were struggling, he was keeping us in there.
“I realize we had some good breaks along the way in the second period. Sometimes when you’re on a roll, you get those kinds of breaks. It was important for us.
“When you go out there in the third period, you have to realize you’re lucky to be in that position that you can still win a hockey game. That’s what we did.’’
Had the Hurricanes been staring down a mortal, they could have tucked seven or more pucks into the Boston cage. Especially in the second period, when the Bruins coughed up pucks and rarely had possession, the Hurricanes pushed the pace to Ferrari-like speeds. They repeatedly attacked the net, sending pucks and people at Thomas in hopes of disrupting the netminder’s game.
They failed. The only time they solved Thomas was when Jussi Jokinen pushed in a first-period power-play goal after Eric Staal jabbed the puck free from Thomas’s grasp.
“When they started to add up in the second, I was aware of it,’’ Thomas said of Carolina’s scoring chances. “Physically, I could feel it. I was like, ‘Whoa, this is a lot of shots.’
“I looked up in the second during a TV timeout. There was 9:49 left in the second period. I think I saw 36 or 34, so I was like, ‘Whoa.’
“That’s when I said, ‘We need to start taking this to the other end if we’re going to win this game. We can’t keep up this kind of pace.’ ’’
The Bruins knew that after Monday’s 7-0 clobbering of Carolina at TD Garden, the Hurricanes would come back with a better approach on home ice.
The Hurricanes’ approach is to enter the offensive zone with speed, activate their defensemen, throw pucks at the net, and send in as many attackers as possible to sniff for rebounds. They executed that game plan perfectly last night. Joni Pitkanen led the attack with six shots. Joe Corvo and Erik Cole had five apiece.
Against the onrushing waves, the Bruins should have crumbled.
“They just kept coming hard at us,’’ said Julien. “To come out of that 1-1, we had to be pleased. We talked about how we were in a situation to control our destiny here in the next 20. I thought the third period was a little better.’’
The Bruins pulled ahead in the third after Mark Recchi won a faceoff against Staal. Recchi pulled the puck back to Zdeno Chara, who winged a shot on goal. Carolina goalie Cam Ward stopped Chara’s shot, but Marchand jumped on the rebound and gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead at 3:55.
The Hurricanes tied the game at 9:19 of the third following a bad bounce in the crease. Jeff Skinner’s shot glanced off Thomas and popped into the air. As Thomas tried to find the puck, Tuomo Ruutu gained control and dished to Chad LaRose at the far post. With Thomas out of position, LaRose swept in the puck to make it a 2-2 game.
But after LaRose was whistled for elbowing Chara, the Bruins netted their second power-play goal.
After taking a pass from Steven Kampfer, Recchi hurtled down the left wing and considered his options. He could have remained at full speed, sprinted behind the net, and tried a wraparound.
Instead, Recchi saw that Lucic had found a soft spot in the slot. Recchi drew a defenseman, who had to respect the wraparound possibility, then dished to Lucic in front. Lucic took the pass and snapped a shot past Ward (25 saves) at 11:49 for his first goal since Dec. 16.
“He was able to sell like he was going around the net, and it was kind of like the parting of the sea for me right there in front of the net,’’ Lucic said. “For myself, after getting one disallowed [Monday], it’s nice to get one that really counts today. It’s nice that I was able to get my first in 13 games and get a big goal.’’
The Bruins now have 59 third-period goals, most in the league. They’ve allowed only 26 goals in the third, a league low. Good teams like to take ownership of the final 20 minutes.
“I think the confidence is there,’’ Julien said. “They know that in the third period, we’ve been a good team. The fact that we were tied and it was 20 minutes that were going to decide the game, our guys felt confident they could go out there and be a better team.’’