With Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final scheduled for Thursday night at Mellon Arena, both teams scaled things back a bit Tuesday.
Carolina took the day off, although there was talk of an optional skate for some little-used players, while Pittsburgh had an optional workout at its suburban practice rink. About a dozen players went on the ice for that session, with third-line right winger Tyler Kennedy the most prominent regular to participate.
Pittsburgh’s 3-2 victory in the series opener Monday marked their third time in a row this spring that Carolina has lost Game 1.
“Been there, done that twice,” Carolina defenceman Tim Gleason said Tuesday. “It’s like a routine of ours.”
And while Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward said that, “obviously, we didn’t want to be put in that situation,” he clearly is aware that one both previous occasions, Carolina rebounded to win Game 2.
“We always seem to come back in a more positive way,” Gleason said.
Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice offered no update on the status of wingers Tuomo Ruutu and Eric Cole, both of whom were injured during Game 1.
Ruutu was hurt during a battle in front of the Pittsburgh net during the first period, when Cole was felled in a knee-on-knee hit by Penguins left-winger Matt Cooke in the third. It remains to be seen if either, or both, will practice Wednesday, or dress for Game 2.
“If they are, those guys are irreplaceable,” Carolina winger Chad LaRose said.
Maurice described Ruutu and Cole as “important pieces to what we do in our style,” but said their absence would not cause Carolina to alter that style.
As of mid-afternoon Tuesday, there was no word on whether Cooke will have a hearing with league officials because of the incident in which Cole was hurt, although Maurice said, “I know they looked at it.”
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma declined to offer his perspective on the Cooke-Cole sequence, just as he did after Washington left-winger Alex Ovechkin injured defenceman Sergei Gonchar’s right knee with a knee-to-knee hit in Game 4 of Round 2.
“Matt Cooke was engaged, trying to make a hit on the guy,” Bylsma said. “The league will decide what it thinks about the hit.”
Great things were expected of Joni Pitkanen after Philadelphia claimed him with the fourth choice in the 2002 entry draft, but his work with the Flyers and Edmonton earned less than rave reviews.
He seems to be settling in quite nicely with the Hurricanes, though. Pitkanen’s point production is nothing special - he had 33 in 71 regular-season games, and has seven in 15 playoff appearances - but he’s averaging a team-high 26 minutes, 28 seconds of ice time during the post-season, including more than five minutes of special-teams work.
“We don’t have the same set of offensive expectations that maybe weighed him down and pushed him out of his role (earlier in his career),” Maurice said.
He noted that Pitkanen “has been far more” than just an offensive defenceman for the Hurricanes, and said that at six-foot-three, 200 pounds, Pitkanen can play bigger than some realize.
“There is a physical element to his game,” Maurice said. “He’s a big, heavy-bodied guy.”
Sweat for success
Centre Sidney Crosby not only is the leading scorer in these playoffs with 22 points, but is generally viewed as Pittsburgh’s best player through its first 14 games.
Crosby’s willingness to go to the net, hard and often, and his ability to generate scoring chances when he gets there have made an impression crowds and TV audiences, but what fans don’t see is the way Crosby works in practice to lay a foundation for what he achieves in games.
“Practice is the one area where he distinguishes himself in a lot of ways, the way he works on the some of the details,” Bylsma said. “You see it in a lot of the ways he practices before we go out on the ice, little things he’s trying to accomplish.
“He believes he needs to practice at a higher level, work in practice and improve in different areas so he can bring it to the game, and it shows, if you just see one practice.”
Carolina has fared pretty well on the road during these playoffs. Even though the Hurricanes’ 3-2 loss in Game 1 at Mellon Arena dropped their away record to 4-5, they made it to the Eastern final by virtue of Game 7 victories at New Jersey and Boston in the first two rounds.
And while the Hurricanes clearly prefer to play at home - they’re 4-2 at the RBC Center this spring - winger Scott Walker acknowledged that there are some benefits to being on the road.
“Maybe sometimes when you’re at home, you try to do too much, try to be too fancy and feel the pressure of your home crowd,” he said. “You come out and play a simpler road game and maybe in some ways, it’s easier.”
Pittsburgh has dressed seven defencemen for four games in a row, and likely will continue to do so until Bylsma is convinced that Gonchar can handle his regular workload on a steady basis.
Bylsma, who had responsibility for making changes to the defence during his days as an assistant coach, said that having an odd number in uniform complicates that job significantly, but it doesn’t seem to cause many problems for the players involved.
“We’re all veterans back there,” said Philippe Boucher, who has been the No. 7 defenceman. “Throughout the season, we’ve played with everyone. We know what to expect from each other.”
Destined for greatness
It has been suggested that, based on events of the first two rounds, Carolina might be a team of destiny.
Not because he doesn’t think the Hurricanes are capable of great things, but because he believes there’s nothing mystical about what the team is achieving.
“We have a good team, and we’re playing well,” he said. “I think it’s about that. We have really good players here, and a good system.”
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