Pittsburgh came within two victories of a Stanley Cup in 2008. Now, the Penguins are one victory shy of earning a chance to try again.
Only two teams in Stanley Cup history — Toronto against Detroit in 1942, and the New York Islanders against Pittsburgh in 1975 — have overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. And if history isn’t daunting enough, Carolina will have to find a way to do it while dealing with the top two scorers in these playoffs, Pittsburgh centres Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
Malkin scored two goals and set up another in Game 3 to run his league-leading points total to 28; Crosby scored one (giving him a league-high 14) and assisted on another to bump his point total to 26.
“They’ve probably been the difference in this series so far,” Carolina forward Jussi Jokinen said.
That’s particularly true of Malkin, who has six goals and three assists in the first three games.
“I can’t remember a time when he’s played better,” Pittsburgh defenceman Mark Eaton said. “He always plays pretty well, but he’s taking it to another level in these playoffs, and particularly this series. Sid’s right there, too.”
Their teammates can't match the things Malkin and Crosby do on the ice, of course, but they can draw inspiration from them. And that seems to be happening a lot this spring.
“It’s unbelievable," defenceman Kris Letang said. “You’re lucky to have only one (player of that caliber), and we have two. When you see those guys play like this, you just have to follow and keep going their way.”
Crosby has long been known for working hard all over the ice, and Malkin is consistently playing hard at both ends, too. His commitment to being more than just a point producer was evident with three and a half minutes left in the third period, when he had a big-time collision with Carolina centre Matt Cullen in the neutral zone.
“The hit he gave at the end of the game proves that he’s playing in every situation, not just offensively,” Letang said. “He can play defensively, he can hit, he can be a complete player.”
Maybe the best in the sport. Or maybe not even the best on his team. It all depends on who is doing the ranking.
“They’re unbelievable,” Pittsburgh forward Craig Adams said of Malkin and Crosby. “To me, they’re 1 and 1A, and I don’t know which one is which.”
Ruutu plays sparingly
Carolina winger Tuomo Ruutu, who missed Game 2 with what was reported to be an ankle injury, played sparingly in Game 3. He took 10 shifts for a total of 7:49 of ice time. Ryan Bayda (6:10) was the only Hurricane who played less.
Ruutu did not record a shot on goal, but was credited with one of the Hurricanes’ 40 hits.
Malkin, Crosby turn the tide
The decisive stretch in Game 3 came during the final minute of the opening period, when Crosby and Malkin scored in a span of 31 seconds to turn a 1-1 tie into a 3-1 Pittsburgh advantage.
“Those are big,” Crosby said. “You know, quickly like that, we get the lead and then get that third one.”
The go-ahead goal came when Bill Guerin carried the puck down the left side before tossing it toward the front of the net. Crosby had shaken free from defenceman Joni Pitkanen and was able to deflect the puck into the net on the backhand.
“Sid, for as many highlight-reel goals as he has, he probably has twice as many just driving to the net,” Guerin said.
The mother tongue
Malkin set up Pittsburgh’s insurance goal by Ruslan Fedotenko at 11:29 of the third period by giving him a between-the-legs drop pass. Once he got the puck, Fedotenko put it over Carolina goalie Cam Ward’s glove.
And while Malkin has some pretty good hockey sense, it wasn’t instincts that let him know Fedotenko was behind him.
“I knew he was open and I knew he was behind me, and I passed because he talked to me,” Malkin said.
Not that anyone around them necessarily was aware of what was going on.
“We both speak Russian,” Malkin said.
Fedotenko’s message, according to Malkin: “Right here, free, free.”
Ward keeps it from getting ugly
Ward allowed five goals on 39 shots and, while his performance didn’t do much for his save percentage, the goalie was the biggest reason the Hurricanes still had a chance to pull out a victory when the game reached the third period.
He was particularly outstanding during the second, when the Penguins ran up a 15-8 edge in shots and had at least a half dozen excellent scoring opportunities but got nothing to show for them.
“If you look at the first two periods of this game, we had 31 shots," Adams said. “[Ward] made some unbelievable saves. Deflections, rebounds. We could have put the game out of reach in the second half of the second period, and he kept them in it.
Then, when they got the second one (by Sergei Samonov at 1:58 of the third), it was a game again. I give Cam a lot of credit.”
Hurricanes face epic challenge
The Hurricanes were understandably discouraged after Game 3 and several players, including defenceman Tim Gleason, accepted individual responsibility for the predicament in which Carolina finds itself.
“I take pride in what I do,” Gleason said. “I’m disappointed in the way I played. I have to step up my game.”
Perhaps, but the same could be said of the entire team, because Pittsburgh has had a decided advantage in the series to date. Whether that’s because the Penguins have played well or because Carolina hasn’t is a matter of perspective.
“We just have to play our style of hockey,” Carolina defenceman Dennis Seidenberg said. “We’re not doing that right now. We’re playing their game.”
Hurricanes winger Erik Cole seconded that sentiment, saying. “That would be a change, if we’d play our game for 60 minutes.” However, he also volunteered that, “You can’t let up for a second against these guys. They’re that good."
Ultimately, though, there probably is little to be gained from dwelling on the first three games of the series, because those results can’t be changed now.
“Obviously, it is not the situation we would like to be in after three games,” Jokinen said. “But it is what it is.”
Carolina coach Paul Maurice obviously grasps the epic nature of the challenge facing his team, but will stress between now and Game 4 that his players not focus on the need to defeat the Penguins four times to win the series, but rather on doing it one time simply to remain alive.
“Our challenge will be to find a way to beat them once, and then we'll try to revisit that,” he said. “But we're not looking at beating Pittsburgh four times. We need one game.”
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