Pittsburgh knows the history.
Only two teams in Stanley Cup playoffs past have overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series, and it hasn’t happened since 1975.
And the Penguins almost certainly realize that, based on their performance while building a 3-0 lead over Carolina in the Eastern Conference final, the chances of the Hurricanes rebounding to run off four consecutive victories are a bit less than microscopic.
Nonetheless, it was clear after the game-days skates that the Penguins are approaching into Game 4 tonight at the RBC Center with the cool, lethal focus of a hit man, intent on eliminating the Hurricanes at the earliest opportunity.
“We have a lot of respect for this team, and know we’re pretty fortunate to be up 3-0,” Pittsburgh defenceman Brooks Orpik said. “You never want a team like this to hang around. If you do give any hope to them, it just builds.”
If Carolina is to get back into the series, it will have to find a way to upgrade nearly every facet of its game.
“It’s not only one thing out there,” Hurricanes forward Scott Walker said. “Yeah, it looks like we’re not playing well defensively, but it’s our whole game. We’re not being first to the puck in their zone, we’re not winning battles.
“We have to come back harder, we have to help our [defence] out, we can’t give them so many chances in alone on Cam [Ward]. Power play, penalty-kill, all those things we have to be a lot sharper.”
Especially when there’s been nothing to suggest that Pittsburgh’s performance is going to experience a significant decline.
“They’ve brought their ‘A’ game every game, and we probably haven’t been able to in any of the first three games,” Hurricanes forward Jussi Jokinen said. “We need to bring our ‘A’ game tonight.”
Carolina coach Paul Maurice agrees that his team hasn’t done that yet, but believes it can this evening, if only to reinforce the point that the Hurricanes have been worthy of making it so deep into these playoffs.
“We didn’t win the lottery to get to the conference final, despite how we’ve played,” Maurice said. “We think we can play better. We’ve been a good team for a long time here this season, and we’d like to go out and show that.
“We’d like to go out tonight and play a game that’s our game. If they beat us at our game, that’s the way it goes. They’re a good team. But you don’t want your season to end tonight thinking that you played four [games] where you weren’t the Carolina Hurricanes. We’d like to see our game and see how it goes.”
Grim as Carolina’s situation is, it could be worse.
“We would like to not be in this spot, but it is what it is,” Jokinen said. “Twenty-six teams are home already. We still have a chance.”
Ruutu’s status still uncertain
Hurricanes forwards Eric Cole, Scott Walker and Tuomo Ruutu, all of whom sat out practice Monday, participated in the game-day skate, and at least the first two seem certain to play tonight.
Ruutu, who is nursing what is reported to be an ankle injury, fell during the morning skate and got up somewhere gingerly.
He did not speak with reporters after the skate and there was no word on his status.
Pittsburgh right-winger Bill Guerin, acquired from the New York Islanders at the trade deadline, has been a good fit with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz on the No. 1 line.
“He brings a lot,” Crosby said. “He wins a lot of battles. He's dangerous in the slot. He makes a lot of smart, quick plays.
“His style of play is a little bit different. It might be tighter, might be a little more open. He's able to adapt to anything. He's a big, strong guy, and he's able to create a lot out there.”
Guerin has six goals in the first 16 playoff games, and has adapted his game to the demands of working with a linemate like Crosby.
“Billy's a smart player,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Byslma said. “He's an experienced player. He's worked hard at figuring out the right things to do to be on that line to help Sid out when he wants the puck.
“I'm not so sure about his fresh legs, but he's certainly got a fresh brain. It's all relative. He's a smart player, makes smart plays with the puck. You know, he executes the right way, whether it's getting pucks in at the time, coming across, supporting his winger, or putting the puck to his net with the guys going there.”
Cowher’s on board
One of the interesting subplots to Game 4 is that former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, a Raleigh-area resident, will crank the Hurricane-warning siren at the RBC Center before the opening faceoff.
Cowher, who grew up in suburban Pittsburgh, alienated a lot of fans in his hometown by coming out publicly in support of the Hurricanes, and they have not been shy about expressing their feelings on talk shows and messages boards.
Cowher got hooked up with the Hurricanes through associate coach Ron Francis, who he met while Francis played for Pittsburgh, and has had at least one coach-to-coach conversation with Maurice.
“It’s interesting when you talk,” Maurice said. “Coaching’s coaching. I had a chance to sit and talk a little bit about their training camps and how they do things and their messages.
“So much of their approach and the things they say cross (the lines between) sports. He’s a really interesting guy. Lots of energy, lots of enthusiasm.”
And lots of former supporters in Western Pennsylvania who are more than a little sour on him right now.
Far from mind
Carolina defenceman Joe Corvo was asked this morning what he knows about the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs or the 1975 New York Islanders, the only clubs in Stanley Cup history to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a series.
Not much, it turns out.
“I was born in ’77,” Corvo said.
Pittsburgh centre Evgeni Malkin, who has six goals and three assists in the first three games, has been the dominant figure in this series, with Sidney Crosby (two goals, three assists) a pretty close second.
Carolina hasn’t figured out how to slow them down, let alone stop them, but understands that its chances of extending the series to a fifth game might depend on finding a way to do it this evening.
“A lot of what they’ve been able to do is based on their work ethic and skill, and they deserve all of the credit for that,” Maurice said. “But for the portion of what they’ve been given by us, that’s the area we have to clean up. We feel we’ve given them more than we should have.”
Tiring the troops
One of the keys to Pittsburgh’s success in the series has been its ability to consistently get the puck deep in the Carolina zone, and keep it there for a while most of the time.
Spending so much time playing defence has worn down the Hurricanes, and regularly having to go the length of the ice to try to generate some offence takes a toll, too.
“We're making it tough on them,” Orpik said. “Any time they do get the puck, they're getting it deep in their zone, so they have to come through four or five guys.
“Whereas before, we were maybe turning the puck over too much in the Washington series [during the second round] and they were countering with the 3-on-2s. The biggest thing is the puck management right now.”
Too many breaks
There were two days off between Game 3 and 4 and, if Carolina wins Tuesday night, there will be another two-day break before Game 5 Friday in Pittsburgh.
Suffice to say, the league didn’t consult Corvo before putting together the schedule, because he isn’t a fan of playoff series that have the potential to last longer than some marriages.
“I’d rather play every other day, or back-to-back games,” he said.
“It’s not great for interest in the sport if games are spread out as far as they are. Who wants to be watching hockey in mid-to-late June?”
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