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With Tuesday’s 4-2 victory against Carolina at the RBC Center in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Boston Bruins simply willed themselves into Thursday’s do-or-die Game 7.
“The game is pretty simple,” Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. “There’s not a whole lot to it. It’s controlled chaos and, at the end of the day, you have to win enough of those one-on-one battles — and I’m not sure that we did it.”
Maurice may not be sure his team won enough individual battles to avoid letting Boston off the hook, but the Bruins were positive that they won enough one-on-one confrontations for the second-straight game to keep their season alive for another two days leading up to Game 7 before a rabid home crowd at TD Banknorth Garden.
“I think Carolina won more (of the battles) at the start (of the series), and we’re starting to win a few more puck battles,” Boston forward Milan Lucic said. “No matter who you are, no matter what team you play on, no matter who you are playing against, if you are going to win puck battles, that is going to give your team success. You have to do that to be successful.”
For the Bruins, the proof of Lucic’s statement was borne out at virtually every key moment in Tuesday’s game.
Boston scored the first goal just 2:01 into the contest when Marc Recchi tapped home a sweet pass from Patrice Bergeron. The keys to the play? Bergeron beat the backcheck of Eric Staal to be in position to make a cross-slot pass to Recchi, who beat defenseman Niclas Wallin to the far post for the tap-in.
Three minutes later Boston was up 2-0 and Carolina had lost whatever momentum their rabid crowd had promised. Again, it was individual battles that proved the difference.
Forward Byron Bitz twice won control of 50-50 pucks to keep the cycle alive. He then bulled his way to the net, getting perfect position on Jussi Jokinen to screen Cam Ward and keep him from seeing Steve Montador’s slapper from the top of the left circle. Just 5:04 into the game, it was 2-0 Boston.
After Matt Cullen made it 2-1 early in the second, Lucic saw his line practice what he was preaching. Defenseman Dennis Wideman made a smart pinch to keep the puck in the attacking zone and then helped Marc Savard win a 2-on-2 board battle that eventually delivered the puck to Lucic’s stick just inside the blue line.
“Dennis did a good job of pinching and keeping the puck in and I think he and Savvy were playing pass for a little bit down there and the puck eventually found its way out to me,” Lucic explained. “I just saw a lane to the net and I just kind of closed my eyes and made a pass and it ended up in the net.”
It ended up in the net because Savard slid away from his defender, Dennis Seidenberg, and found an open seam in the right circle for the one-timer.
Boston opened up a 4-1 lead on Chuck Kobasew’s goal late in the second, then held on in the third behind the goaltending of Tim Thomas. Sergei Samsonov cut it to 4-2 with 12:40 left in the game, and Boston had to kill two penalties after the goal. Thomas faced nine more shots after Samsonov scored but was equal to the task.
The penalty kills were made more perilous because Boston was down to four forwards with PK experience after Savard left the game early in the third after suffering a right-knee injury in a knee-on-knee collision with Chad LaRose. Blake Wheeler, the sixth forward in Boston’s kill rotation, was a healthy scratch.
“I’m proud of the way guys sucked it up in certain situations,” said Boston coach Claude Julien, who told the media after the game that Savard would be ready for Game 7. “We got short on our penalty-kill guys, but guys sucked it up and held on. You know, the draws were important for us tonight. We won the right draws at the right time. Those are the things you need.”
On Tuesday night, Boston got those individual victories more often than not. As a result, the Bruins now get the opportunity to win some more one-on-one battles in Thursday’s Game 7.