FSN SOUTH (TV)—In a game interrupted throughout by fights, the best play of the night was a refusal to drop the gloves.
Carolina defeated the defending Stanley Cup winners for the second time already this young season, 4-1, on the strength of Joni Pitkanen's goal and two assists. Anthony Stewart opened the scoring and Eric Staal and Tuomo Ruutu tallied on late power plays to salt the game away.
Cam Ward weathered an intense opening frame to finish with 33 saves, allowing only Rich Peverley's man-advantage goal. At the other end, Tuuka Rask stopped just 19 of 23 Carolina shots.
But this game was more about emotions than numbers. Boston tried to summon the controlled fury that carried them through last season's playoffs to a title. Rather than surging, however, they boiled over, amassing 70 minutes in penalties, including four game misconducts. Coach Claude Julien, his bald head as red as the goal lamp that the Canes kept lighting, was even ejected in the final minutes.
Early on, though, the Bruins looked like they did last June, testing Ward from the opening shift. The netminder splayed his legs to foil Peverley's stickhandling in the blue ice of the crease just a half-minute in, and then traversed the goal mouth to foil Tyler Seguin off a brilliant crossing pass from Brad Marchand.
Carolina's fourth line continued to click as Stewart notched his second goal of the campaign, knocking in a loose puck that Brent Sutter shoveled across the slot almost three minutes in. The assist was Sutter's first NHL point, as he looked right at home replacing the injured Zac Dalpe in the lineup.
Other than Sutter's dangerous interference penalty on ex-Cane Joe Corvo chasing a loose puck into a corner, sending an airborne Corvo into the boards horizontally, the first period closed without further event. But things would erupt in the second.
Trading ineffectual power plays, the teams began to ratchet up the physicality of play. Marchand left his feet to charge Ruutu against the defensive zone boards before Jeff Skinner high-sticked Andrew Ference. And then Pitkanen pushed a testy atmosphere over the edge.
Midway through the second, Tim Brent pried a puck off the boards in his own end. Ruutu motored up ice with it and found Pitkanen cruising down the left wing. The big Finn blasted a rocket-powered slap shot from the top of the circle that hit the back of the net before Rask's futile glove could react, taking the crowd aback.
It was a dramatic and increasingly rare shot in this post-lockout era of neutral zone clogs and composite sticks that shatter easily. Pitkanen grinned unabashedly as teammates mobbed him, looking wide-eyed at the goal almost in disbelief.
Now down 2-0 after Pitkanen's stunner, the Bruins lost it.
As Horton and Jay Harrison pushed at each other in a routine scrum after Ward froze the puck, Boston captain Zdeno Chara barged in to attack Harrison, landing punches to the side of his head before Harrison could even locate the source. Then Chara got in Ward's face, prompting Rask to skate the length of the ice to challenge the Canes' goalie. Ward, who appeared to be chuckling beneath his mask, would have none of it.
"I didn't take it as a serious threat. I don't even know what was said," Ward said to reporters afterward. "My heart rate didn't get up or anything. Basically I told him to get back in his own net. And he did."
Chara took an instigator penalty and Rask received a minor for leaving the crease. But the Canes looked tense and squandered a full two minutes of 5-on-3 advantage. The Bruins' fans roared as their penalty-killers skated off, but Dennis Seidenberg took an immediate interference call to scuttle any momentum from the kill. The period ended, but the buzz of Boston frustration carried through the intermission into the third.
Julien opened the final frame juggling lines, but his players seemed more interested in trying to provoke fights after whistles. Marchand darted about, trying to keep his face in Alexei Ponikarovsky's after a Rask save, but the big Russian extricated himself from the situation without incident.
The emotional surge almost worked. Carolina iced the puck several times in the early going under heavy pressure from successive Boston lines. Bryan Allen and Milan Lucic traded blows along the Canes' bench, and Chris Kelly fought Brent Sutter at the 10:30 mark. His sweater over his head, Sutter nonetheless landed several punches to Kelly's face, looking like the Headless Horseman.
Gleason somehow received an extra roughing call in the melee and Boston immediately capitalized as Peverley's wrist shot found its way past Ward's glove through a Marchand screen. The B's were within a goal.
Moments later, however, Gleason placed mind over emotion to make amends in the game's turning point. Horton inexplicably dropped his gloves and attacked Gleason, who stayed stoic even as Horton yanked his jersey half off, swinging away at his body like a punching bag. Horton got a double minor and a game misconduct. Gleason betrayed the faintest hint of a grin at his own restraint.
Then, not twenty seconds into the power play, Chara was called for an incidental high stick on Skinner, who gives a full eleven inches to the towering defenseman. Marchand took an unsportsmanlike behavior call for mouthing off to the referee about the call. Carolina hardly set up their 5-on-3 attack when Seidenberg added a boarding penalty to the mix. The fifth Bruin in the sin bin, Seidenberg couldn't even sit down. It looked like a bulk food bin full of gummy Bruins.
Seeing it still as a one-goal game, coach Paul Maurice called a timeout to focus his team, and it worked. The Canes spread the zone and kept their feet moving as Pitkanen pulled a clearing attempt deftly off the boards and slung it to Jussi Jokinen in the circle. Jokinen smacked a shot-pass to Staal for a tip goal at the lip of the crease. Staal cathartically slapped the glass in the corner.
Still on a man advantage, the Canes made it 4-1 with Ruutu's first goal of the season about 90 seconds later. Booed all night, Tomas Kaberle picked up the secondary assist against the team he won the cup with as a rental player last spring, flinging a stretch pass to a curling Chad LaRose in the neutral zone. LaRose held off a defender long enough to fire a perfect pass to the net for Ruutu to chip home with five minutes to go.
Julien's ejection capped the game, as the Canes skated out the clock and got off the ice without further event. Carolina has now strung three convincing wins together as their road trip continues Friday night in St. Louis.