Hurricanes' Locker Room: Comeback hinges on production from big guns
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RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes decided practice wasn't necessary yesterday.
With one day between games of the Eastern Conference final -- something they said they wanted after trying to keep busy in Pittsburgh during the first of at least a couple of two-day lulls -- they opted instead to lick their emotional wounds, settle back in at home and steel for Game 3 tonight at RBC Center.
Asked about dealing with the aftermath of Thursday's 7-4 loss to the Penguins that left Carolina trailing in the series, 2-0, coach Paul Maurice said, "Yeah, that's what we're trying to control, and that's exactly what we're doing."
The Hurricanes haven't been as many as two games down this postseason, but they have not had an early lead in a series, either. So coming back is practically second nature.
"This team has been pretty good all playoffs at leaving the games behind, win or lose," said winger Ray Whitney. "We've had some ugly games where we haven't done very well in both series prior. Believe it or not: This team's pretty good at just leaving it there and moving on."
The Hurricanes need to address these areas if they hope to climb back into the series: They need better production from their top players, goaltender Cam Ward and center Eric Staal, and must find a way to contain the Penguins' potent centers, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
Ward, who helped his team win the Stanley Cup as a rookie in 2006, has given up nine goals through two games after entering this round with a 2.22 goals-against average. While a couple uncontested shots have gotten through -- such as a blazing one from Max Talbot for the Penguins' third goal in Game 2 -- Ward could benefit from some traffic control.
"We have to take away the middle of the ice more and tighten up defensively to get Cam a better opportunity at some of those shots," forward Chad LaRose said.
The Penguins have let loose 72 shots against Ward in the two games. To defenseman Tim Gleason, that's further evidence of depending on Ward too much.
"I think it's more about us in front of him," Gleason said. "We haven't worried about him all year. He's going to be there every single night."
Maurice agreed with his skaters' assessment but didn't let Ward off the hook completely.
"I think the world of Cam," the coach said. "I think this guy's extra special. So I never really had a problem putting pressure on him to be [a rock] or worried about taking the pressure off him by saying, 'Hey, we've just got to do better.' Granted, we do, but we also have very high expectations. He's just fantastic."
But, he added, "yeah, I think he can do better."
Staal said the same thing about himself. The importance of his offense is easy to chart: Carolina was 22-3-2 in the regular season when he had a goal, and he has scored in seven of the team's eight playoff wins.
This series, he has one assist and a plus-minus rating of minus-3. He missed a golden opportunity to tie Game 1 in the final minute of regulation, but his hurried shot banged right into Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
"You want to be counted on offensively," Staal said. "Obviously, it hasn't happened for me in the first two games. It's been close a few times. Just got to stay with it, stay battling."
Malkin and Crosby have produced the way Staal would like to. They have combined for five goals and four assists, including a hat trick by Malkin in a dominant performance in Game 2.
"I had a lot of shifts against [Malkin Thursday] night," said Gleason. "All he needs is a little time and space and he puts it in. He's a heck of a hockey player."
Maurice is confident the production by Malkin and Crosby can be limited.
"Clearly our ability to contain them on our end of the ice and find them on our end of the ice has been lacking in the first two games," he said. "Fortunately it's an area where we can make adjustments during the course of the [series]."
First Published May 23, 2009 12:00 am