RALEIGH, N.C. -- Despite being on the brink of elimination, the Carolina Hurricanes displayed confidence, poise and a little humor after practice yesterday at RBC Center.
"We have to stay positive," defenseman Tim Gleason said in the face of the fact the Penguins can complete a sweep of the Eastern Conference final with a win tonight in Game 4.
"We're even willing to shave these beards off to see what happens."
That might be unlikely, given the solid tradition of NHL playoff beards, but, then again, the Hurricanes were in something of a defiant mood.
Asked if the team feels as if it is being written off, forward Chad LaRose said, "I hope so. I hope they're counting us out. But you know, it's not over, so we're excited about [tonight's] game. And I think just getting to the Stanley Cup final is enough motivation in this room for us."
Goaltender Cam Ward, who has allowed 14 Penguins goals through three games, initially feigned ignorance about criticism aimed at him.
"I don't know. What have you been saying about me? Who has been talking trash?" he said with a grin.
Then, he embraced the pressure.
"That's why I'm a goaltender," he said. "That's why I signed up for the position I did. I want to be that guy to come up and perform at a high level and show the team if we do make mistakes I'm going to be there to bail us out. I need to do that. A lot of people are counting us out of the series right now. I think it just opens a door for an opportunity to show people what we really can do."
Ray Whitney has pretty much become a fixture on Carolina's top line with center Eric Staal, even if the other winger in the combination has changed through this series.
Asked what it's like to play with a good, young player like Staal, the 37-year-old winger answered quickly.
"Well, I see a lot of his [rear]. He's pretty fast," Whitney said before offering a more serious and flattering view.
"Anytime you can play with one of the premier players in the league, it's very exciting," he said. "In Detroit, I played with a bunch of Hall of Famers. I played with Pavel Bure on a line when he was leading the league in goals.
"In Staal, it's good having a centerman who plays the way he does and is the way he is. He's not one of those premier guys who thinks he's better than anybody else."
Staal and Whitney have struggled offensively the first three games of this series, with Staal collecting one assist and Whitney two, but neither scoring a goal.
Still, Whitney has developed a deep appreciation for the playoffs over the years.
He broke in to the NHL 17 seasons ago and is with his sixth team. He got some early playoff experience with the fledgling San Jose Sharks and won the Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006, but he has also gone through droughts of six, three and two years without making it to the NHL postseason.
"I think people at times can take them for granted," Whitney said of the playoffs. "It's tough to make them, so, when you get in them -- especially when you get a little older -- you've got to enjoy them."
Although Carolina has stumbled against the Penguins, Whitney shares the drive with those from the Cup year.
"After you win the one [Cup], you get greedy," he said. "You want two. You want three.
"It gives you an adrenaline rush and an addiction. And then you get halfway through it and you're like, 'Man, I forgot how tough it was to do it.' That's what makes it so rewarding."
Coach Paul Maurice said forwards Scott Walker, Erik Cole and Tuomo Ruutu should be available for Game 4 despite missing practice, although he said Ruutu is "more day to day."
Cole has not missed a game but was iffy for Game 2 after a knee injury in Game 1. Ruutu got a leg or ankle injury the same game, missed Game 2 and played just 7:49 in Game 3.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1721.