RALEIGH, N.C. - The Boston Bruins aren't going down without a fight. Or several of them, actually.
One loss from early elimination, hockey's top remaining seed got itself back into the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Carolina Hurricanes with a series of hard hits, bruising checks - and, yes, an occasional skirmish.
After cutting the Hurricanes' lead in the best-of-seven series to 3-2 with a shutout romp in Game 5, the Bruins are looking to even things in Game 6 on Tuesday night and go back to Boston for a decisive Game 7.
This much has become clear: What was a surprisingly one-sided affair for a while suddenly has become a series again - and one with a rough edge, if not some old-fashioned hatred.
"I know we're a team that plays on the edge, as far as being physical and playing with a lot of emotion that way, and (Game 5) was certainly more our type" of game, Bruins coach Claude Julien said Monday. "Now whether it plays more to our advantage, I don't know. It's certainly the type of game that we want to play."
Except, of course, when it costs him a key player.
Defenceman Aaron Ward was a question mark after he was dropped to the ice in the final minutes of Game 5 by a right cross from Carolina's Scott Walker, who was not suspended but was fined US$2,500 by the league. Team doctors who initially feared Ward had a broken orbital bone were re-evaluating him Monday, and the defenceman was expected to travel to Raleigh.
A day later, the knockdown remained a hot topic for both teams. Julien called it a sucker punch, Boston forward Shawn Thornton vowed to remember it and Carolina forward Erik Cole simply said of it: "That's hockey."
"We have long memories, how about that?" Thornton said. "It's not something you can obviously address this time of year. Winning games is more important than anything else. But things are not forgotten."
That dustup marked the crescendo of a chippy game that featured a combined 29 penalties and 83 penalty minutes and at times devolved into "Slap Shot" hockey. Carolina defenceman Tim Conboy twice came to blows with Bruins and Boston's Milan Lucic delivered the hardest legal hit of the night when he checked Dennis Seidenberg by the corner boards to set up the first goal.
That started a flurry of scoring in which the Bruins began to resemble the group that claimed the No. 1 seed in the East, swept Montreal in the first round and won its first five playoff games before dropping three in a row to Carolina. They hope the 4-0 victory gave them confidence that they finally have figured out Carolina goalie Cam Ward, who in Games 2-4 held them to a total of three goals during his three-game winning streak.
"We lost our focus a little bit. I think we got caught up into their style of game," Cam Ward said. "We were taking a little bit more penalties than we did in the first few games, and got caught up in what was going on after the whistle was blown. We've just got to get back to back to playing the way we did in the previous three games.
"We're still in a good situation."
The way the Hurricanes see it, losing in such lopsided fashion might wind up working to their advantage because - unlike those nagging one-goal losses that usually lead to soul searching at this time of year - this one was easy to forget.
"The good news is, it wasn't one of those heartbreaking losses that lingers," Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour said. "That one's pretty much easy to put behind you."
Now the heat is on the Hurricanes to close out the series on home ice.
They would prefer not to make another trip to Boston for a winner-take-all Game 7, a matchup in which they'd face both the pressure of possibly blowing a 3-1 series lead and the wrath of Bruins fans who certainly won't forget Walker's knockdown of Aaron Ward.
"It's not a must-win because we'd have another one," Brind'Amour said. "But we definitely, obviously, want to take care of it here."
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