RALEIGH -- Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward returned to the lineup on Monday at PNC Arena. Ward hadn't played since Oct. 24 against the Minnesota Wild, when he suffered a groin tear.
But in his return, by the time Ward felt comfortable, the Boston Bruins had already scored two first-period goals en route to a 4-1 win before 13,919. Right wing Reilly Smith and center Carl Soderberg scored in the opening period.
Ward stopped 26 of 29 shots, including 13 of 14 in the final two periods.
"It's tough to evaluate my first game back and only my ninth start of the season," said Ward, who played only 17 games last year because of a knee injury. "I haven't played a whole lot of hockey considering last year. I need to get my game back to where it needs to be. I'd rather look at the positives of tonight than the negatives. I hate losing, but in the second and third periods, I felt a lot better about my game."
Smith scored a power-play goal at 2:31 of the first. As defenseman Dougie Hamilton manned the point, Smith rotated down low to the back post. After taking a pass from Hamilton, left wing Loui Eriksson dished to Soderberg at the goal line. Soderberg spotted Smith with stick position on defenseman Brett Bellemore. Smith tapped home a short-range goal for his third of the season.
The Bruins doubled their lead at 10:24. Center Chris Kelly won an offensive-zone faceoff to Smith. Smith went to defenseman Dennis Seidenberg at the left point. Soderberg tipped Seidenberg's shot past Ward.
"I thought Cam competed hard," said Carolina coach Kirk Muller. "He started off with a power-play goal and a tipped goal, not easy to make saves on. After that, he hung in there. He battled hard, similar with a lot of guys. He fought through it and got better as the game went on."
For the second straight game, the Bruins allowed a late first-period goal after taking a 2-0 lead. On Friday against Ottawa, the Bruins were up 2-0 when a Torey Krug turnover led to a Chris Neil goal at 19:10 of the first. It was the first of four straight Ottawa goals in the Bruins' 4-2 loss.
This time, left wing Tuomo Ruutu scored with 4.8 seconds left in the first. After taking a pass from center Eric Staal, Ruutu jammed the puck past goalie Tuukka Rask to make it a 2-1 game.
Ruutu's goal gave the Hurricanes energy. In the second period, they had a great chance to tie the game when the Bruins fell into penalty trouble. First, defenseman Johnny Boychuk went off for tripping left wing Jiri Tlusty. Then center Gregory Campbell was called for delay of game when he sent a long-distance clear into the netting above Ward.
But the Hurricanes couldn't do anything on the 63-second two-man advantage. Rask made a sharp glove save on left wing Chris Terry's one-timer from the slot.
The Bruins also won two defensive-zone faceoffs to prevent the Hurricanes from setting up their five-on-three formation. Center Patrice Bergeron won both faceoffs.
"The thing I liked tonight is that we won faceoffs and we were in the right place to ice the puck," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "I think we iced the puck three times from winning battles. I liked that about it. With 1:03, they could have spent a lot more time in our own end. But we didn't give them that opportunity. I liked that about our five-on-three. Our guys were in the right position. So we got what we wanted out of it."
The Bruins took back control after killing the two-man advantage. At 10:29 of the third, the Bruins took a 3-1 lead. Ward stopped center David Krejci's shot. But Ward couldn't handle the rebound. Then Ward got tangled up with left wing Milan Lucic, who was crashing the net. Boychuk found the rebound and hammered a slap shot into the net before Ward could recover.
Lucic scored an empty-net goal at 19:49.
"We didn't want to give them some life," said Julien. "They're a good team, no matter what. They're a good team that can come back. They're pretty explosive when you give them that opportunity. You don't want to do that."