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Systems Analyst Classics: Walking Out of Boston

Revisiting Scott Walker’s overtime winner in Game 7.

Carolina Hurricanes v Boston Bruins - Game Seven Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

After a classic game 7 finish in round number one of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Carolina Hurricanes would once again have to go on the road for a series finale in round two, this time a Thursday night showdown in Boston. After dropping the series opener, Carolina won three straight to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. But the Bruins would take games 5 and 6 and carry all of the momentum back home for a decisive game seven.

In the game’s opening period the Bruins carried that momentum, and some good fortune, to a first period lead.

Just about seven minutes into the contest the Hurricanes would send the puck the length of the rink. Bruins netminder, and eventual 2009 Vezina Trophy winner, Tim Thomas leaves his crease to play the puck, but eventually thinks better of it and retreats back into his net. Thomas leaving the crease in the first place to make a move on the puck should have negated icing, but the linesman misses it and blows the play dead.

The Bruins then were able to get fresh legs on the ice against a tired group of Hurricanes unable to change. After winning the faceoff the Boston trio of Michael Ryder, David Krejci and Byron Bitz establish a cycle below the Carolina goal line. Eventually Bitz beats Tim Gleason out of the corner and gives Ryder the puck in the high slot for a slapper that caroms off the end boards back out in front for Bitz to finish.

In the still image below, it’s clear that Bitz’s only options are to blindly throw the puck back below the net to continue the cycle or move the puck high. The passing lane to Ryder is wide open with Joe Corvo sagging a hair below the tops of the circles to help support Gleason should Bitz beat him to the middle. Winger Patrick Eaves’ stick could take away the passing lane to Ryder if he were to turn it to the middle of the ice, but Eaves’ responsibility is his point man and his stick positioning towards the wall does limit that particular passing lane.

Once the puck gets to the net, Rod Brind’Amour cannot tie up Krejci’s stick. This means that instead of trying to cover the puck, Cam Ward has to push back towards the post to make a save attempt on Krejci. The puck gets past everyone and rolls to the top of the crease creating a tap-in for Bitz.

After the shot from Ryder, Gleason gets caught staring at the puck and totally loses Bitz, making an easy finish, even easier for the 24-year-old winger.

But just a few minutes later Boston winger P.J. Axelsson would be whistled for hooking and send the Hurricanes to the man advantage.

Dennis Seidenberg, who would win a Stanley Cup with the Bruins just two seasons later, fakes out future Hurricane Stephane Yelle before giving the puck to Joni Pitkanen who returns the favor by giving Seidenberg a perfect pass to one-time.

Seidenberg’s one-timer glances off of Brind’Amour who is parked in front and evens the score.

The game would remain tied until almost halfway into the second period.

Tuomo Ruutu takes a big hit behind his net, but is able to complete the breakout pass to Jussi Jokinen who in turn finds Frank Kaberle in the middle of the ice. Kaberle, looking for a change then dishes the puck to Joni Pitkanen who comes through neutral ice with speed and eventually finds former Bruin Sergei Samsonov.

Pitkanen charges wide past Krejci and then on Dennis Wideman. Wideman points his stick and then leaves it facing up ice towards the slot. The slot is the most dangerous area on the ice and one worth protecting, but with the rest of the Hurricanes changing there is no threat of Pitkanen passing back to the slot. And as a left-handed shot, Pitkanen isn’t much of a threat to cut back to the middle of the ice on his backhand either. If Wideman is able to recognize that and play stick-on-puck, he likely prevents the back door pass to Samsonov.

In the clip below, Samsonov’s net drive subtly works in towards the crease, rather than skating in a straight line down the rink. That increases his gap and gives him better body position on the back checker, Michael Ryder. Once Samsonov beats Ryder to the post, there is little that Thomas can do to make a save

The Hurricanes would carry the lead into the third period, but the Bruins would soon find an equalizer.

Marc Savard is chased out from behind the net by Corvo, but makes a savvy feed in front to find 20-year-old Milan Lucic. (21-year-old Phil Kessel would also notch an assist on the play.)

Corvo opts to chase Savard out from behind, which automatically gives Savard a step on the defensman. Recognizing that Savard has a step, Brind’Amour abandons his assignment, Lucic who just blistered in from the point, to help out Corvo.

Brind’Amour goes down looking to prevent the pass, but Savard puts it off of Cam Ward’s pad, creating a rebound right on Lucic’s tape.

The game would head into sudden-death overtime tied at two. After nearly 19 minutes of back and forth action the game looked like it might require a second overtime to decide things as Ray Whitney entered the Boston zone down the right wing wall.

Whitney’s harmless looking shot generates a juicy rebound from Thomas which is deposited for the winner by Scott Walker for his first career playoff goal.

The play looks harmless enough entering into the zone, but Wideman is oblivious to Walker’s route to the net and completely loses him. Instead of tying up, Wideman puts a weak stick check on Walker that the winger easily powers through for the goal.

Wideman’s lackadaisical coverage combined with an uncharacteristically bad rebound given up by Thomas was the perfect storm to send Carolina on the conference final.

The goal may have meant a little extra to Walker, if that is even possible of a Game 7 overtime winner, because of the controversy surrounding his sucker punch of Aaron Ward in Game 5. Many around the league, and particularly in Boston, thought Walker would be suspended for the incident, and his series clinching goal would only enhance his status as a villain around New England.

Unfortunately the game seven thriller would be the last playoff game the Hurricanes would win in 2009, and the last one they would win until 2019. The Hurricanes would be swept by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final and fail to qualify for the postseason again until a decade later.