BOSTON Oh, what a finish.
And for the Carolina Hurricanes, oh, what a victory.
Pushed into overtime by the Boston Bruins, fighting for their hockey lives, the Canes won 3-2 Thursday on Scott Walker's goal with 1:14 left.
After Ray Whitney took a slapshot from the right wing, Walker rushed in and scored off the rebound to lift the Hurricanes into the Eastern Conference finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"I didn't believe it," a smiling Walker said. "I didn't know what to do after it."
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Here's what he did: After the first playoff goal of his career, after a Game 7 winner, the veteran forward make a mad dash toward the center of the ice before being engulfed by his teammates.
"I never thought I could jump as high as I could with skates on," said goaltender Cam Ward, now 4-0 in Game 7s in his career.
So ended a fierce semifinal playoff series that had the sixth-seeded Hurricanes grab a 3-1 lead with three straight victories, only to have the top-seeded Bruins rebound to win Games 5 and 6 to force the seventh-game showdown at TD Banknorth Garden.
Walker was loudly booed by Bruins fans before the game when his name was announced as part of the starting lineup. It was Walker who punched out Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward late in Game 5, earning a fine from the NHL but not a suspension.
But about that starting lineup. Canes coach Paul Maurice moved Walker onto Eric Staal's line with Whitney for Game 7, replacing Erik Cole on the wing.
"He put me in a situation to play with two fantastic players," Walker said. "It didn't take a lot of skill to go to the net and whack it in (for the winner)."
Maurice, after the game, wouldn't take credit for the line change, saying it was a staff decision.
"We felt he was the piece that was missing for that line," Maurice said, noting Walker's gritty ability to control the puck around and behind the net and the toughness to duel defensemen Zdeno Chara and Ward. "And the other part of it is Scotty Walker is not afraid of anybody."
The Hurricanes played much of the overtime without Rod Brind'Amour, whose first-period goal gave Carolina a 1-1 tie. Brind'Amour was hit in the face with a puck at 2:13 of overtime while sitting on the bench, and the Canes badly missed his faceoff ability and his defensive toughness.
Brind'Amour's availability for the beginning of the Penguins series was not known after the game. The series starts Monday in Pittsburgh.
But even without its captain, the Canes found a way to win.
"We stayed with it and got the job done," Staal said.
The Bruins grabbed a 1-0 lead on a goal by rookie Byron Bitz at 7:42 of the first period, but Brind'Amour tipped a shot by Dennis Seidenberg past Bruins goalie Tim Thomas at 13:59 of the period for a 1-1 tie.
"We bounced back well after falling behind," Staal said.
The Canes led 2-1 after Sergei Samsonov's goal on a two-on-one with Joni Pitkanen at 7:45 of the second. Carolina then nearly made it 3-1 in the opening moments of the third when Brind'Amour tipped another shot and the puck came inches from crossing the goal line.
Instead, the Bruins tied it 2-2 when Marc Savard set up Milan Lucic for a goal. Boston seemingly had the momentum but the Canes kept their poise.
Ward and Thomas then took turns making spectacular saves, both finishing with 34 stops. Each team had eight shots in the overtime.
The Canes nearly scored on a Jussi Jokinen tip of a rebound with about three minutes left. But Walker got the job done.
"It was a great series and it's good to be the winner," the Canes' Chad LaRose said. "The Bruins are a great team. Down 3-1, they showed a lot of character. And we just want to play as many playoff games as we can.
"Scott Walker. Great for him. It was a team effort, but that's awesome. It was just an awesome game."
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