Rask puts Hurricanes in 3-0 hole with stellar Game 3 performance

The Bruins goalie was the difference in Boston's 2-1 win, Carolina's first home loss of the postseason

The puck flutters just wide of the Boston net as Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask and Carolina Hurricanes forwards Micheal Ferland (left), Nino Niederreiter (center) and Justin Williams (top) try to locate it in the first period of Tuesday’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final at PNC Arena. Rask made 20 of his 34 saves in the opening period to lead the Bruins to a 2-1 win and 3-0 series lead. (Robert Clark / For the North State Journal)

RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes have stood up to every challenge placed in front of them this season. They now have their biggest one yet.

The Boston Bruins, led by a spectacular 35-save effort from goalie Tuukka Rask, won Tuesday’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final 2-1 at PNC Arena, dealing Carolina its first home loss of the postseason and putting the Hurricanes on the brink of elimination.

“It’s frustrating,” Hurricanes defenseman Calvin de Haan said. “Their goaltender’s playing great right now, and I think he’s a difference-maker. I don’t know — kind of at a loss for words right now. I thought we were the better team tonight, but that’s hockey and we lost the game and it’s about wins and losses this time of year.”

The Hurricanes dominated the first period, outshooting the Bruins 20-6 but failed to score on four power plays in the opening frame — including 45 seconds of 5-on-3 time and another 4-on-3 sequence — leaving Carolina frustrated.

“Obviously, you need to get something out of that period. Obviously,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said of the first-period blitz and man-advantage opportunities. “I think not getting anything is a little demoralizing, but they felt fine.”

Almost everyone felt fine.

Hurricanes captain Justin Williams, who scolded himself after Game 2 for getting called for a penalty after retaliating on Bruins pest Brad Marchand, was seemingly again taken off his game in the first period Tuesday.

Williams took three penalties — all inflicted on Boston defenseman Torey Krug — but was defiant when asked if he had not heeded his own Sunday advice that he should “know better” than to get caught up in such antics.

“No. Nope,” he said bluntly.

While Brind’Amour said the mood was fine following the controlling-yet-empty-handed opening period, Boston used its survival of the first to take over in the second.

The Bruins’ fourth line opened the scoring when Chris Wagner — who played just 91 seconds in the opening period — scored on Carolina goalie Curtis McElhinney to make it 1-0 at 1:21 of the second.

Then, with Nino Niederreiter in the box for slashing, the Bruins’ power play scored its fifth goal of the series. Marchand cruised through the slot and bounced a backhand off de Haan’s glove and past McElhinney to push the score to 2-0 at 6:28.

“He makes a move into the slot there and you kind of lose sight of it,” said McElhinney, who had 29 saves after getting the call over Game 1 and 2 starter Petr Mrazek. “So it’s just an unfortunate bounce.”

The Hurricanes, however, got life in the second half of the middle frame.

De Haan — he of one goal in 74 regular season games — wound up and blasted a shot that trickled through the previously impenetrable Rask to cut the lead in half, 2-1, at 13:48 of the second period.

But that was all the scoring the crowd of 18,768 would see.

The Hurricanes remained frustrated, whether it was Rask’s show-stopping saves or missed opportunities of their own.

“He’s definitely the difference-maker,” Brind’Amour said, echoing de Haan. “You can feel it.”

Now Carolina has to feel its way up the mountain it needs to climb to avoid being eliminated.

“It’s going to be a big one, but, you know, we believe in this group,” de Haan said. “Got a really good young team here and just gotta win four games in a row.

“Simple as that.”

Notes: Saku Maenalanen, who was injured in Game 2 of the Islanders series and missed the past four playoff games after undergoing surgery on his hand, returned to the lineup in place of the hobbled Jordan Martinook. He played 7:33, took a two-minute roughing penalty and had a scoring chance on Rask alone in the first. … Williams is the seventh player — and first Hurricanes player — to be called for three minors in a game this postseason. … De Haan’s goal was his first career playoff goal. Tuesday was the 27th postseason game of his career. … Defenseman Haydn Fleury played just 3:31. … According to reports, Wagner was seen in a sling following the game. He appeared to injure his right arm blocking a Justin Faulk shot in the third period. … Dougie Hamilton had a game-high 12 shot attempts and tied Williams for the Hurricanes lead with six shots on goal, but he has registered just one point (an assist) in his past eight playoff games.