Carolina likes the idea of making a little hockey history - just not anytime too soon.
Pittsburgh has a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference final, and if Carolina can grab a victory when the teams meet in Game 4 Tuesday night at the RBC Center in Raleigh, it can keep alive its hopes of becoming just the third team ever in the NHL to overcome a 3-0 deficit and win a best-of-seven series.
Lose Game 4, however, and the Hurricanes will earn a different distinction. They will become the franchise’s first team from Carolina to be swept in a series. When the club was based in Hartford, it was last swept in 1989 by Montreal in an Adams Division semifinal.
Precedent says the odds are stacked heavily against Carolina running off four consecutive victories – no team has won a series after losing the first three games since the New York Islanders did it to Pittsburgh in 1975 – but the Hurricanes insisted Monday that no one should write them off just yet.
“If I had to pick a team to come back from a 3-0 deficit, this would be a good team to do it,” goalie Cam Ward said. “We’re confident that we’re able to do it.
“Over time, we’ve shown that we can find a way, when people count us out, to rise to the occasion. We have a great character team, with a lot of skill. We’ve shown that we’ve been able to rise up when things don’t [go] our way.”
The Penguins, however, don’t seem to be taking a return to the Stanley Cup final for granted. They were loose during Monday’s practice, as befits a team in control of its series, but no one was researching restaurants in Detroit or Chicago just yet.
“I don't think anyone's looking too far ahead,” defenceman Brooks Orpik said. “Everyone's just been talking about Game 4. No one's been talking about who we might face or who we might play in the next round, so I don't think that's going to be a problem. Everyone knows we've got to close it out as quick as possible.”
In each of the first two rounds, the Penguins failed on their first opportunity – both on home ice – to close out the series, and that seems to have made an impression on them.
“The last one's always the toughest,” center Sidney Crosby said. “And we've had a couple of chances to put teams away, and we haven't done it yet, so we have to learn from that and make sure our desperation's there.”
"I hope they’ve counted us out," Hurricanes forward Chad LaRose said, adding, “it’s not over.”
Not, he added, that hearing that Pittsburgh was taking victory in the series for granted would provide any real incentive for the Hurricanes.
“Just getting to the Stanley Cup final is enough motivation for us,” LaRose said.
That seems to be the case in the other dressing room, too.
Hurricanes on the mend
Carolina forwards Eric Cole, Tuomo Ruutu and Scott Walker did not participate in Monday’s practice at the RBC Center, but coach Paul Maurice said he is certain at least two of them will be in uniform for Game 4.
“We expect all of them [to play],” he said. “But I think with Ruutu, we see it as more of a day-to-day.”
Ward OK with the heat
Pittsburgh has launched 113 shots at Ward during the first three games of the series.
That’s an average of just under 38 per game and the most the Hurricanes have given up during a three-game stretch since Oct, 19-25, when they allowed 128.
While Carolina isn’t happy about all the goals Pittsburgh has gotten, the Hurricanes have been careful about not putting too much blame on Ward for Pittsburgh’s victories in the three first games, or pressure on him to be near-perfect to help Carolina climb back into the series.
Ward, though, made it clear yesterday that he has no problem accepting the demands that come with being a key member of his team and one of the league’s better players at his position.
“That’s why I’m a goaltender,” he said. “That’s why I signed up to be in the position I’m in. I want to be that guy to come up and perform at a high level and to assure the team that if we do make mistakes, I’m going to be there to bail us out. I need to be there.”
Shades of Lemieux-Jagr?
Pittsburgh centers Evgeni Malkin and Crosby, the two leading scorers in these playoffs, are starting to be compared in some quarters to the Penguins’ duo of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr that was dominant for so much of the 1990s.
Crosby, who was labeled “the next Wayne Gretzky” shortly after his first baby teeth came in, takes that praise pretty much in stride.
“I've dealt with that for a long time, comparisons and things like that,” he said Monday. “It's a compliment, but we don't want to read a whole lot into it.
“We want to make sure, as far as myself and [Malkin] go, that we're contributing, and if we're looking at that then we're doing something right. I don't think we need to change anything, but it's a compliment.”
Fourth, but not least
It’s not often that a fourth line is a potential difference-maker in a series, but it’s not often that a fourth line is centered by one of the best in the world at his position, either.
But since Sergei Gonchar’s knee injury, sustained on a hit from Washington’s Alex Ovechkin during the second round, has compelled Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma to dress seven defencemen as insurance, Crosby and Malkin have been getting a little extra work on the fourth line (Jordan Staal has taken an occasional shift there, as well).
With Miroslav Satan – certainly more offensively gifted than most fourth-liners - on one wing and blue-collar forward Craig Adams on the other, Pittsburgh has a unit that is a legitimate threat to score every time it's on the ice.
“With Crosby or Malkin at centre, and Satan, (and) a responsible guy and face-off guy in Craig Adams, it's a formidable line,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “A line you can put out in different situations and not worry too much about matchups.”
Maurice has likened it to the No. 4 line Detroit was able to send out a few years back.
“When you have Brett Hull on the fourth line or [Luc] Robitaille on the fourth line,” he said, “it's no longer a fourth line.”
Playoff beards are a staple in the NHL at this time of year, and players who grow them generally do not remove them until their season is over.
Yesterday, though, Carolina defenceman Tim Gleason suggested that he and his teammates might consider getting rid of their while they’re still in the playoffs, simply to see what the result would be.
“We have to stay positive,” he said. “We’re even willing to shave these beards off to see what happens.”
Staal staying upbeat
Hurricanes centre Eric Staal has managed just one point, an assist, through the first three games of the series.
That’s earned him considerable criticism, especially when Crosby and Malkin have been so productive, and Staal doesn’t have a problem with that.
“I'm counted on to score goals, and counted on to produce offensively,” he said Monday. “I think I need to be a little better in my end of the rink and focus on that first, and everything else will take care of itself. That's sort of the way my game is.
“When those opportunities come, they're going to fall. I didn't score 40 goals for no reason. I know what I can do, and I'll continue to attack on that.”
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