Sidney Crosby scores a goal on Cam Ward as Joni Pitkanen tails. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The Cardiac Kids of Carolina are due for an imminent date with a defibrillator – as well as a possible brush from a broom – after falling 6-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final Saturday and dropping to 0-3 in the best-of-seven series.
The Canes came out strong and enjoyed the benefit of playing before a jacked-up home crowd when they began Game 3. They took the first lead of the evening on a nice effort and finish from Matt Cullen at the four-minute mark and were thrilling the assembled throng by pressuring for more.
But then Carolina winger Patrick Eaves took a needless slashing penalty a couple minutes after Cullen’s goal; that was all the halted momentum the Pens needed to take advantage of what clearly is a worn-down Hurricanes defense corps.
First, one of Pittsburgh’s two giganto-stars, Evgeni Malkin, evened the score on the power play that ensued after Eaves’ penalty. Immediately after, the Penguins made Marc-Andre Fleury’s job a great deal easier by taking much of the play to the other end of the arena and testing Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward repeatedly.
Ward was sharp and up to the challenge – that is, until two defensive breakdowns in the final minute of the first resulted in the go-ahead goal from giganto-star No. 2 (Sidney Crosby) and, 31 seconds later, Malkin’s second marker of the game.
Ward couldn’t be faulted on any puck that passed him to that point. Yet, very suddenly, what had been a respectable Canes effort became a 3-1 balloon-bursting score heading into the second period.
To their credit, Carolina came out for the middle regulation frame with their intensity intact and Ward held Pittsburgh off the scoresheet for the entire period. Yet, just as the Pens out-shot the Hurricanes 16-8 in the first, the visitors again excelled with puck possession for the next 20 minutes, out-shooting the Canes 15-8 and looking more assured with each movement of the game clock.
Sergei Samsonov pulled the Hurricanes to within a goal of tying the contest by beating Fleury 1:58 into the third period, but it was too late by then – yes, even before Ruslan Fedotenko scored midway through the third to put the game safely in Pittsburgh’s pocket and before Craig Adams and Bill Guerin chipped in with goals of their own in the dying moments of the game.
Carolina’s best chance to win Game 3 was to jump on Fleury early and hold on thanks to their typically stifling forecheck. Once that opportunity was squandered, the Pens’ best players were, again, better than the Canes’.
Malkin, in particular, put together another stirring game. So far, Carolina has had no solution for him
And that’s why Pittsburgh can complete the sweep of the Hurricanes when the teams play Game 4 Tuesday night at the RBC Center.
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Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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