The Boston Bruins played their strongest first period of the post-season and rebounded from a mid-game lull to defeat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2 on Tuesday night and force a seventh and deciding contest in the Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Mark Recchi and Steve Montador scored within the first six minutes for Boston, with Marc Savard and Chuck Kobasew adding second-period goals.
Savard was forced to leave the game early in the third period after knee-on-knee contact with Carolina forward Chad LaRose, but Bruins coach Claude Julien said the team's top centre would play in Game 7 back in Boston.
Matt Cullen brought Carolina up to 2-1, the closest they would get, with Sergei Samsonov also scoring.
The Hurricanes, with the aid of two power plays, put huge pressure on Boston late in the game, but could not get closer due to Tim Thomas. The Bruins goalie was outstanding in net with 31 saves, helping to set up Thursday's final game (8 p.m. ET).
Thomas stopped Erik Cole and Eric Staal on the power play, and with just over six minutes left, he denied Cullen on the doorstep.
"Basically, I'm trying not to let them get anything to feed off of," Thomas said.
The Bruins will have a chance to successfully fight back from a 3-1 deficit in the series, which has only been accomplished 21 times (out of 236 attempts) in NHL playoff history.
"We dug ourselves a hole, we worked our way out of it, [and] now it's a one-game, winner-take-all," Julien said.
No Boston team has ever managed a comeback after going down 3-1 in 21 previous attempts for the franchise.
Carolina will return to familiar territory. They were forced to win Game 7 on the road in the first round, advancing with an incredible late-game comeback in New Jersey.
"I think that there's an advantage sometimes. Almost the pressure in some ways comes off you when you get into an elimination game," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "You go out and you know you can leave it all out on the ice and you're not hoping to get through it or hoping to get a break — you gotta go make them.
"This'll be a heck of a Game 7. We've been in one already that was as exciting hockey you're going to find, and I'd expect the same."
Ward has tough time
The Hurricanes had won their last four playoff games at home at RBC Centre, including two largely dominant performances against Boston earlier in the series.
Carolina goalie Cam Ward endured his toughest game of the series since the opener, finishing with 15 saves.
Staal, whose nine goals in the playoffs are the most of anyone not named Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby, was held without a goal for the second straight game.
Boston's Kobasew forced a neutral zone turnover to set up the first goal, which was largely engineered by centre Patrice Bergeron. He skated down right side and drew two defenders before sliding the puck over to Recchi for an empty net and a 1-0 lead just two minutes into the game.
It was Recchi's third goal in four games and his 50th career playoff marker.
The Bruins were beating the Hurricanes to the puck around the boards, and they worked it over to a wide open Montador at the right point, who took his time and teed up a slapshot that beat Ward between the pads 5:04 into the game.
"I didn't get the sense that we came out of the gate and were on our heels, but we weren't moving the puck and maybe as sharp with the puck. But neither were they," Maurice said.
Thomas kept it scoreless by making made a right pad save on Cullen and nearly two minutes later stretched to make successive saves on Samsonov and Jussi Jokinen.
The Hurricanes had the Bruins hanging on dearly in their own end over the final two minutes of the first period, and it led to a Zdeno Chara penalty.
The Carolina power play stretched into the second period but was killed off, with Thomas thwarting Staal and Anton Babchuk.
The home team turned the tide, however, by winning individual battles for the puck. Scott Walker's backhand pass set up Cullen near the crease, and he beat Thomas on a second attempt at 2:49 of the second.
The goal ended a span of over 87 minutes that the Hurricanes had been shut out by Thomas.
Carolina's Walker was in the lineup despite dropping a defenceless Aaron Ward with a punch in Game 5. The NHL opted for a fine instead of a suspension for Walker.
The Bruins were playing on their heels as they did in the middle of the series, but they slowly began making incursions into the Carolina zone, with Phil Kessel testing Cam Ward.
Milan Lucic would not be denied on the 3-1 score, working his way from the blue-line to the slot. The Hurricane defenders collapsed toward him, allowing the big forward to set up Savard with a half-empty net.
Julien said there was a lot to like about the Lucic play.
"Not just the fact that he held on to it, but how he used his body to protect it and got himself in position where he made an outstanding pass to Savvy, and Savvy, all he had to do was shoot it into the opening net."
Bruins recover from defensive blunder
Defenceman Dennis Wideman, who has had trouble finding the net for Boston in this series, allowed a short-handed breakaway opportunity for Cullen late in the period, but the Carolina forward was hindered by a defensive play from Chara, allowing Thomas to cover the puck.
Wideman tried to make amends at 16:32, but his blast rang off the post.
Boston did score late when Bergeron outfought Tuomo Ruutu for the puck along the boards. He found Kobasew driving to the slot for the conversion at the 18:03 mark of the second, which silenced the Raleigh, N.C., crowd.
Bergeron, who went without a point in the series's first four games, has three assists in the last two.
"To me, this was a huge game by Patrice at both ends of the ice," Julien said. "He was outstanding on the penalty kill, he got us going with his forecheck and his determination to make plays.
"He got a couple of assists tonight and to me, it is… without a doubt his best game of the series."
The Bruins got careless in their own end just over seven minutes into the third period, with Samsonov taking a Staal pass amid a group of Bruins and beating Thomas between the pads.
But the Boston goalie showed why he's a Vezina Trophy finalist for top goalie in the league with his late-game heroics that prevented any serious Carolina rally.With files from The Associated Press