RALEIGH, N.C. — The Bruins were the more skilled team, the more patient team, and the team with the better goaltending.
That’s a deadly triple threat in the playoffs, and the primary reasons they are one win away from the Stanley Cup Final.
Boston survived a first-period surge from Carolina, scored in the first 81 seconds of the second, and rode ace netminder Tuukka Rask to a 2-1 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
The Black and Gold, aiming for the seventh Cup in franchise history, are one win from their first Final since 2013. They can sweep the Hurricanes out of the third round on Thursday at PNC Arena.
A rowdy crowd, lubed up from the tailgate party in the parking lot, was desperate to see a 2-1 deficit, not one of 3-0. They were soaring and roaring after their team flung 33 first-period attempts at Rask, but grew sullen after none went in.
Rask made 35 saves on 36 total shots. Before the game, Patrice Bergeron called Rask the “backbone of the team” and noted how his play “calms everybody down.” Was that ever the case on Tuesday.
After the Bruins weathered the opening storm — they produced nine shot attempts in the opening 20, stuck on the penalty kill four times — they took control in the second.
At 1:21, Chris Wagner finished a pass at the doorstep from Joakim Nordstrom, who fed him after strong work up high by Sean Kuraly. Other teams ache for fourth-line play like Boston’s.
“We expect them to get on the board,” Brad Marchand said. “They’ve done it all year. They’re a dominant line for us . . . They’re good every night. They’re a big part of why we’re a good team.”
A little more than three minutes later, they made the Hurricanes pay for an offensive-zone penalty. Nino Niederreiter’s high stick on David Krejci let Marchand go to work. He sent a backhand in traffic off the hand of defenseman Calvin de Haan and through netminder Curtis McElhinney. It was Marchand’s sixth goal of the playoffs, and his 16th point (second only to San Jose’s Logan Couture, who has 19).
McElhinney, who got the start after Petr Mrazek spit the bit in the first two games (10 goals allowed), saved 29 of 31 shots. Allowing two goals in a playoff game sometimes makes a loss out of a valiant effort. Especially when put up against an otherworldly keeper in the other cage.
“It’s the best I’ve seen him play,” coach Bruce Cassidy said of Rask. “I don’t want that to come out the wrong way, because in [previous playoff] runs he was excellent . . . He’s been dialed in since April 10, since we started [the playoffs].”
Rask, whose pads let in a hard de Haan slapper along the ice, allowed nothing more than that 2-1 goal at 13:48 of the second. It was Carolina’s 26th shot of the night. Going back to his Game 6 shutout in Columbus in the last round, Rask had saved 98 road shots in a row.
He was otherwise brilliant, staying dry in a torrential downpour of a first period. The Hurricanes were on the power play five times for 7:55, and wound up with nothing.
In the opening 20, the Bruins were called for six penalties, going on the penalty kill four times. The first came 55 seconds in, when Brandon Carlo shot the puck over the glass. The Hurricanes had a full six minutes of extra-skater time in the first period. They played 1:09 at four on three, and 45 seconds at five on three.
On the first kill, Rask made four stops off the same initial try — a deflected shot from out high and three follow-up saves, using his pads, blocker, and glove.
“I might have had my eyes closed for three of them,” said Cassidy, who soon opened them to marvel at his netminder.
Rask got a few breaks. Eighteen seconds in, Teuvo Teravainen hummed a one-timer wide of an open cage. Rask, who was prone, said he was tripped, and expected a possible goal to be washed out. He had no recourse when Andrei Svechnikov had the tying goal on his stick in the second. But the Hurricanes rookie shot wide on a perfect setup from Teravainen — shades of Kaspars Daugavins in the 2013 Final.
Boston nearly made it 3-1 at 4:16 of the third, when Torey Krug scored on the power play. The goal was immediately waved off for goaltender interference after Jake DeBrusk knocked into McElhinney. Boston challenged, likely noting that DeBrusk hit the netminder outside of the crease, but it mattered not.
Matt Grzelcyk’s interference penalty at 5:38 gave the Hurricanes another power play, and a chance to tie the score. No dice.
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour emptied the cage with two minutes on the clock, and called his timeout 12 seconds after that. In the final 30 seconds, the Hurricanes never reached the Bruins’ zone.
“We’re not going to beat them four times in one game,” Brind’Amour said afterward.
Rask took a long shot at the buzzer. Good night, Carolina, for now. And maybe Thursday, for good.
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports