RALEIGH, N.C. - Chad LaRose tried to beat up six-foot-nine Boston defenceman Zdeno Chara a few months ago, but that didn't quite work.
So once the playoffs started, the 5-10 Carolina forward instead turned to his quickness to outfox the NHL's tallest player, turning a hustling steal of the defenceman's lazy pass into the kind of goal that can swing a series.
Now the breakout player of the Hurricanes' post-season run will be back on home ice Wednesday night for Game 3 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals with the Bruins, and he's looking to create more of the highlights that have made him perhaps the NHL's most surprising point-a-game performer in these playoffs.
"I'm just ending up finding the back of the net here and there," LaRose said Tuesday. "I'm playing a role (and) I've kind of had the pressure to do that sort of thing. And I like that role - if I wasn't producing, then it'd be a problem. Since they're going in, it's going well, and as long as we're getting wins, that's all that matters to me."
With several of his high-profile teammates struggling with their scoring touch in the post-season, the high-energy LaRose has picked up the slack, keeping his career-year numbers rolling right through these playoffs and helping the Hurricanes even the series at one game apiece.
He had career-highs of 19 goals and 31 points during the regular season, then kept it up into May with a team-best six assists in the playoffs. On the team, only All-Star centre Eric Staal (nine) has more points this post-season than the eight recorded by LaRose, who has been shifted between both wing positions and shuttled through Carolina's line combinations.
"He's one of those guys that everybody likes to play with," coach Paul Maurice said. "He's excited about playing. He's going to go work his butt off, so he's going to make you look good. He gives you chances to score. He's going to compete and say a few funny things on the bench. . . . As we're moving the lines around, 'Guys, you're playing with Chad today,' (the reaction is), 'All right, I'm playing with Chad today - that's a good thing."'
One of the more memorable snapshots of the Hurricanes' regular season came during the Bruins' last visit in February, when the diminutive LaRose mixed it up in the corner with the hulking Chara - a mismatch no matter how you interpret the tale of the tape.
"I just remember going after him a little bit, but that's all behind us," LaRose said with a smile.
He found a new way to get the better of Chara in the post-season, using his hustle to help turn Game 2 - and, perhaps, the series - around for Carolina.
The Bruins trailed 1-0 but were on a second-period power play when LaRose jumped Chara's pass near the blue line. He skated in and set up Matt Cullen's short-handed one-timer that made it a two-goal game.
Before Carolina's 3-0 Game 2 victory, Boston had won its first five playoff games by a combined 20-7, and didn't allow more than two goals in any playoff game.
"I think when teams say they didn't play well, like every other team that's in the playoffs, there's going to be some games where you don't feel you're as good as others - and that was in all areas," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "That's why you hear coaches say it's a mindset. I think that's what it was. We were just OK and OK is not enough in the playoffs."
They'll have to get back to what worked so well during Game 1, when they dominated play throughout and took advantage of several Carolina miscues in a 4-1 victory before 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cam Ward claimed his fourth career playoff shutout and second of this post-season in the second game.
"He's been through it once. He's going through it again," Julien said. "Having said that, right now, I think both goalies have played really well. He definitely was outstanding last game, but we have to be better to make him not look so good and we can do a better job in that regard."