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THN.com Playoff Blog: Penguins march onto Stanley Cup final

Ruslan Fedotenko celebrates his goal with Evgeni Malkin and Maxime Talbot. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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Ruslan Fedotenko celebrates his goal with Evgeni Malkin and Maxime Talbot. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

If Paul Maurice could have scripted his team’s start to Game 4, it would have looked very similar to how things actually played out in the first two minutes.

After all, with Eric Staal finding the back of the net early and the Canes record sitting at 7-0 in these playoff when he did, winds of chang looked to be blowing Carolina’s way.

Unfortunately for the fans in attendance, who must be commended for their blind faith in attempting to vocally spur on their club, Carolina’s Category-5 start quickly dissipated with the Penguins taking control and carrying the play, just as they did for the vast majority of this short-lived series.

Despite getting white-washed by a Penguins squad firing on all cylinders, the Hurricanes deserve a ton of acclaim for upending two quality opponents in New Jersey and Boston. The future is bright in Carolina, too, especially since they’re blessed by playing in a division with three of the league’s weakest teams.

Cam Ward proved this post-season that his Conn Smythe performance of 2006 was no fluke. He was the NHL’s best goalie through the first two rounds, he’s only 25 and he’s under contract for a relatively paltry $3.5 million next season before he becomes a restricted free agent.

Success starts with goaltending and the Canes have a keeper goalkeeper for years to come.

Carolina is well positioned at both forward and defense as well. With eight forwards and five defensemen under contract for $42 million, they’ve got a plethora of cap room to round out an already solid core. That room has the potential to increase, too, if Rod Brind’Amour decides to walk off into the sunset with his $3.6 million cap hit; money that could, in part, be used to re-sign Erik Cole.

If Maurice can bottle the magic he rediscovered with this club when he replaced Peter Laviolette and uncork it for the start of next season, it isn’t unreasonable to forecast the Hurricanes challenging the Capitals for the Southeast title in 2009-10.

On the Penguins side of the equation, the flightless birds appear destined for a rematch with the defending champs. Pittsburgh will be outmatched both up front (due to Detroit’s depth) and in the back end (because the Wings sport the best blueline in the game), but where the Black and Gold will get the nod is in goal.

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M-A Fleury came into his own against Carolina – he was particularly brilliant in Games 1 and 4 – and if he can continue his outstanding play, this year’s Cup final will end with a vengeance. 

A few other unconnected thoughts from Game 4:

• The CBC deserves a lot of credit for their playoff presentation and one of many examples is how they allow the atmosphere within the arena to play out uninterrupted until moments before the first puck is dropped. Announcers and analysts are there to break down the game, but there are moments when muted mics tell the best story.

• Why does it look as though if you pulled hard on Ruslan Fedotenko’s head and feet he’d come apart at the waist and nested inside you’d find another smaller Ruslan Fedotenko?

• It took me several anthems (beautifully sung by Katherine Fritsch) to understand why, in addition to “Red!” the RBC Center crowd chanted “You see!” early on in the Star Spangled Banner. Now that I get it, I wonder if Mr. Jokinen will ever find fans who appreciate him as much.

• A lot of the credit for the Penguins turnaround is heaped upon the shoulders of head coach Dan Bylsma, who replaced Michel Therrien in mid-February, but not enough praise is given to assistant Tom Fitzgerald, who moved from director of player development to assistant coach when Bylsma was brought in. A veteran of more than 1,000 NHL contests, Fitzgerald’s knowledge and communication abilities have played a key role in the Penguins returning to the final.

THN.com's Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.

Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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