A victory Tuesday will give the Penguins a berth in the Stanley Cup final. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
Well, it’s all mercifully coming to an end for the thoroughly overmatched and outplayed Hurricanes. That’s not to say the Canes can’t pull one out Tuesday at the RBC Center for their fans, but there’s no way they win four straight against the high-octane Penguins.
Carolina has been outscored 16-8 through three games and outshot 113-87. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have eight goals and 14 points between them, while the entire Carolina roster has eight goals and 22 points. And that’s been the problem; Carolina has been unable to contain Crosby and Malkin, especially the latter who has nine points in the three games.
Of course, Cam Ward has also looked fatigued – the expected result after two emotionally draining, seven-game series. For all his technical prowess while staring down Martin Brodeur and Tim Thomas during the first two rounds, Ward has looked shaky on a number of goals and been down too early on others.
It all started going wrong for Carolina in the second period of Game 1 – that sounds like an easy thing to say considering the series score, but it’s true. What went wrong was how Marc-Andre Fleury out-played Ward. Fleury withstood the only sustained barrage the Canes have mustered in this series, giving his teammates added confidence to keep pushing forward offensively.
The Canes eventually scored a goal that period, but Fleury kept his team ahead with a number of spectacular stops. And when Paul Maurice’s squad was unable to harness the intensity and energy of the Caniacs for Game 3 five days later – allowing three Pittsburgh goals in the opening frame – the series was over.
If the Canes are going to be able to stretch the series out, one thing they’ll have to do better is stifle the Penguins’ power play. There haven’t been many man-advantage opportunities so far (just 20), but Pittsburgh has scored on 25 percent of its chances (3-for-12) against what was the NHL’s best penalty-killing team of the playoffs when it entered the series (the Canes were at 92.5 percent, now they sit third at 87.9 percent).
Carolina, too, has raised its power play average, albeit slightly. Entering the series the Canes were scoring at a pathetic 10.4 percent rate; against the Pens they are 1-for-8 or 12.5 percent. (Hey, when there’s not a lot of good you write what you can.)
Ward will also have to play like the Conn Smythe Trophy candidate he was his first 14 post-season games this year. Eric Staal will have to get going, too. He had nine goals through his first 11 playoff games, but has failed to light the lamp in any of his past six contests and has just one assist and a minus-6 rating versus Pittsburgh.
Sorry if this has sounded more like a eulogy than a game preview, Caniacs. But even the most die-hard of you must be able to read the writing on the wall. This will be the first time since 2001 that your boys have made the playoffs without reaching the final. As a No. 6 seed that’s been playing desperate hockey since January, Carolina has to be commended for getting as far as it has and downing two of the East’s best along the way.
So be loud and proud Tuesday. Soak it up. And know that your boys will be a better team moving forward for what they’ve accomplished the past six weeks or so.
Host Edward Fraser sits down with writers Ryan Dixon and Ken Campbell to discuss Sergei Gonchar’s impact on Pens and the key contributions made by Pittsburgh’s secondary players.
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