RALEIGH, N.C. – It was a fast and furious start to a game that matched the energy of the building with 17,917 screaming spectators in it.
Playing to one of the bigger crowds of the season at PNC Arena on Friday, the Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins offered up a gritty display of end-to-end hockey that ended with the Hurricanes losing 4-1 as a result of an impressive 39-save performance from Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask.
Carolina outshot Boston 40-22 in the two teams’ first meeting of the season, but was frustrated repeatedly as 40 additional shot attempts were blocked or missed the net.
“We were competitive; it was a great pace to start,” Hurricanes captain Eric Staal said.
“We just weren’t able to find enough offensively. Definitely enough looks, but it didn’t happen.”
At the other end, Hurricanes starting goalie Cam Ward made equally impressive stops, but less of them, 18 in total, and with more consequence in allowing three goals.
Matt Beleskey’s two goals along with singles to Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand fueled the Bruins offense and handed Carolina a second loss in as many nights after falling 3-1 in Toronto on Thursday.
“We skated tonight, we hadn’t skated in our last two games prior to tonight,” Carolina head coach Bill Peters said.
“On a back-to-back with some travel, we somehow found a way to get some energy and skate. That was a positive for sure.”
Peters also had to adjust the Hurricanes’ lineup as an ankle injury to defenseman Justin Faulk kept him out for another game, and upper body injuries to forwards Andrej Nestrasil and Jay McClement suffered against Toronto required Brad Malone and Nathan Gerbe to step into their spots.
Both teams traded possession and scoring opportunities to begin the game and it was Bergeron who struck first and put the Bruins ahead 1-0 at the 10:26 mark.
Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin’s clear attempt up the left boards deflected off Bruins forward Brett Connolly’s skate towards Ward’s crease where Bergeron picked it up and lifted it over the goaltender’s right pad.
Beleskey then extended the lead to 2-0 just over two minutes later with a well-placed snap shot over Ward’s trapper side from the far corner.
Rushing the puck up the left boards through the neutral zone, Beleskey’s give-and-go off the boards got him past Hurricanes defenseman Michal Jordan before he released the shot that caught Ward overplaying his position toward his right post.
Boston carried its two goal lead into the first intermission with Carolina putting 12 shots on goal to the Bruins’ 11.
The pace of play and its back-and-forth nature continued into the early part of the second period.
The Bruins managed to maintain possession for longer periods of time in the offensive zone while the Hurricanes’ offensive sets were not as consistently structured and long.
When Carolina did get its chances to put pucks towards Rask, he made it look easy in making pad and glove saves alike.
The Hurricanes’ most sustained possession time in the Bruins zone took place near the end of the period, but Rask and his defense maintained the 2-0 advantage heading into the third.
Carolina earned a power play opportunity early in the third when David Pastrnak was called for holding on Victor Rask.
With 22 seconds remaining with the extra man, the Hurricanes’ lone goal came as a result of a deflected shot off the end boards from Hanifin’s point shot that subsequently bounced off Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller’s stick and into the net.
It was Hanifin’s third goal of the season and first career power play marker.
Boston didn’t take long to reestablish its two-goal lead as Beleskey’s second of the game came about as the result of a tight forecheck and turnover behind the Carolina net.
With Jimmy Hayes and Ryan Spooner pressuring Jordan for the puck, Spooner eventually got his stick on it and passed it into the slot where a streaking Beleskey beat Ward for his 13th goal of the season.
Throughout the game, the heavy Bruins contingent in the crowd made itself known with the chants of “let’s go Bruins,” loud and clear.
Likewise, it was quickly answered back and countered with “let’s go Hurricanes,” from the local faithful.
It was a playoff-style game with the stakes high as Boston worked to stay near the top of the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference standings.
For Carolina, the loss denied the opportunity to gain any traction, and added another game in-hand that the Pittsburgh Penguins could capitalize on creating further separation while holding onto the final spot.
“I thought offensively we did a good job; defensively not as good,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said.
“So…again, I’m not disappointed here. We won a big game against a team that was pretty desperate to climb back and try to get themselves closer to a playoff spot. So, you’ve got to recognize that.”
With 2:31 remaining, Carolina pulled Ward for the extra skater with hopes of cutting its deficit.
However, they weren’t able to as the Bruins continued to play stronger on the puck for the duration.
With 13 seconds remaining, Marchand scored his 32nd of the season from the center line and finalized the score and win for Boston.
“We’ve gotta stay with it,” Peters concluded.
“I think tomorrow will be a good day to clear your head and come back and empty the tank here against St. Louis on Sunday and start a new week. That’s what we’re gonna try and do.”