Boston Bruins defenceman Mark Stuart, right, drops Carolina Hurricanes left wing Ray Whitney to the ice on a hard check in the second period during Game 1 of an NHL Eastern Conference semi-final hockey game, Friday, May 1, 2009 in Boston. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Charles Krupa
BOSTON - Aaron Ward laughed when he saw all the newspaper articles asking whether the Boston Bruins would be rusty from the long layoff they earned by sweeping Montreal in the first round.
"When you are at this stage of the season, your athleticism should take over," the Boston defenceman said Friday night after the Bruins scored on the first shot of the series and pulled away from the Carolina Hurricanes to win 4-1 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. "You should never be rusty at this stage of the playoffs."
Tim Thomas stopped 26 shots, and Marc Savard scored twice for the Bruins, the top-seeded team remaining in the NHL playoffs. Michael Ryder scored for the fourth game in a row as Boston, which swept the Hurricanes during the regular season, made it five straight - by a total score of 22-7.
"Whether we lost 10-0 or 4-1 it makes no difference," Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour said. "It's a loss, and we're going to have to regroup and do better next game."
Cam Ward made 20 saves, and Jussi Jokinen scored the lone goal for Carolina.
Game 2 is Sunday in Boston.
"We've got to know that we can beat these guys. We've got to feel confident," Hurricanes forward Eric Staal said. "It's a best-of-seven series for a reason. We can be better; we know that. We've got to ... forget about this one and look forward to Game 2."
Thomas won his 11th consecutive game, including four straight in the first round against rival Montreal that was Boston's first playoff series victory since beating the Hurricanes in 1999. The sweep of the Canadiens left Boston with eight days off to prepare; they didn't even find out their second-round opponent until Tuesday night, when Carolina scored twice in the last 80 seconds of Game 7 against New Jersey to oust the Devils.
"There was some rust in the first period," Thomas said. "Not anything that was a game-changer, but we got better and better as the game went on and shook the rust off. After nine days off, one bad period is not a bad place to be."
Boston scored just 94 seconds in - on the first shot of the game - when Ryder dug the puck out from behind the net and passed it to the point for Ward. The defenceman's wrist shot was tipped in by David Krejci.
Carolina tied it with 1:10 left in the first when Jokinen put a slapshot past Thomas a split-second before the goalie was flattened by Ryan Bayda. The goal counted, and Bayda went off for interference.
"I was too busy watching the puck go in," Thomas said. "So I didn't see that one at all."
But that was the only time Thomas was off his game.
He made a save on Tuomo Ruutu midway through the first just before the Hurricanes forward was checked into the crossbar, dislodging the net. With just under 15 minutes left in the game, Thomas made a left-pad save on Eric Staal at point-blank range to keep it a two-goal game.
Two minutes later, Savard took a drop pass from Phil Kessel and beat Ward to make it 4-1.
The Hurricanes lost the opener of the New Jersey series by the same score.
Notes: Ryder and Kessel have at least one point in each playoff game Boston has played this year. ... It was Thomas' sixth straight game allowing two goals or fewer. ... The last time the teams played in the playoffs, in 1999, Hurricanes defenceman Steve Chiasson was killed in a drunken driving accident hours after Carolina returned home. With his 31st playoff appearance, Cam Ward became the franchise leader in games played among goalies. ... Julien was named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award for NHL coach of the year.