Hurricanes' Locker Room: Players realize they are in deep hole but still believe they can muster a comeback


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RALEIGH, N.C. -- For days, the Carolina Hurricanes talked.

About forwards Eric Staal and Ray Whitney and goaltender Cam Ward finding their games

About scoring on the power play, about limiting Penguins stars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, about rediscovering their late-game comeback touch and about thrusting themselves back into the Eastern Conference final.

The Hurricanes haven't been able to follow through on those chores, and it has taken them to a point where words are a lot less important than actions.

"There's lot of areas we can improve upon," Carolina winger Erik Cole said after a 6-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 3 last night at RBC Center.

The problem is, there is not anything close to a reasonable amount of time to shore up all those areas. Down, three games to none, Carolina faces elimination in Game 4 Tuesday.

"We are not going to quit," forward Jussi Jokinen said. "You need four wins to go through [to the next round], and, right now, they have three."

Which is a pretty safe place for the Penguins to be. Only twice in 155 attempts have NHL teams come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.

"We've never been in this spot before, but if I was to pick a team to try and come back, this would be the one because we've done it all year and we've done it these playoffs," Staal said.

Any comeback -- perhaps even any win in this series -- might very well depend on Staal finding his scoring touch.

Although he has nine goals and 14 points in 17 games this postseason, he has one assist this series, two in Carolina's previous five games.

Even before Game 3, Staal was fending off questions about the pressure he must be under.

"If I'm scoring goals and helping our team offensively, we're going to have a better chance to win the game. I know that," he said. "But I can't change my game. I can't get frustrated. I can't put extra pressure on myself.

"We've proven we can win games without me winning the game or scoring a goal."

Yes, but it is not happening now.

Staal's linemate, Whitney, has been quiet, too. He had one assist in each of the first two games but no points last night.

Ward also has been off his game. He stood his ground at times last night against a series of barrages by the Penguins but gave up six goals for the second consecutive game, on 40 Penguins shots.

It's been the opposite for Penguins stars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who combined for three goals and five points last night and have accounted for 14 points in three games this series.

"You can't let up on those guys for a second," Cole said. "They're that good."

Carolina was the better team early last night, controlling the action and taking a 1-0 lead at 4:06 on Matt Cullen's short-range shot after Patrick Eaves' hard work set up the play.

"The first five, 10 minutes were really good," Jokinen said. "We got the first goal and got the momentum."

The Penguins came back with two goals by Malkin and one by Crosby before the end of the period -- they each scored in the final minute -- in a display that illustrated the gap between the teams, one that was especially apparent when the game turned into a track meet.

"We're not as quick as we need to be to defend them," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "We have to manage that puck better and move that puck faster

"When you're opening up against that team, you're at a distinct disadvantage."

While Carolina climbed to within a goal, 3-2, on a Sergei Samsonov shot off a rebound at 1:55 of the second period, the outcome had been decided.

In the game, but, the Hurricanes vowed, not necessarily in the series.

"We're a very good team. We didn't get this far for no reason," Staal said. "We haven't played our best. Yet. And that's shown because we're down three games.

"We're in a tough hole, but all we can do is come back Tuesday and get one and try and go from there."


Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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