Penguins look to end series
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RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Stanley Cup playoffs are all about reacting and adjusting to the unexpected.
To losing your best defenseman for a few games because the other team's most talented player decides to steamroll him.
To finding ways to win despite going 14 games without a goal from your first-line left winger.
So far, the Penguins seem to have done a good job of anticipating complications they might encounter, and coping with the ones they didn't.
Not everything they failed to foresee has been a potential problem, though.
• Eastern Conference final: Penguins vs. Hurricanes, 7:30 p.m. tomorrow.
• Where: RBC Center, Raleigh, N.C.
• TV: VS.
For example, they certainly didn't expect that, just three games into the Eastern Conference final, they would be in a position to eliminate Carolina.
While no one expressed it quite the way Marian Hossa did after they won Games 1-3 against Ottawa in the first round last year -- "I don't think we expected to be up 3-0 so early," he said -- there's nothing to indicate that, a week ago, they figured to have a chance to end the series by winning Game 4 at 7:38 p.m. tomorrow at the RBC Center.
"I don't think that in a conference final, you expect to win the first three," Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton said. "You don't try to make those predictions."
The Penguins didn't have to make predictions -- or do much of anything else -- yesterday.
With Game 4 still two days away, coach Dan Bylsma gave his players the day off.
No practice. No media interviews. No meetings.
And no reason to think about how they have a chance to sweep a series for the first time since the opening round in 2008, when they knocked off Ottawa in the aforementioned series. They also took 3-0 leads in the two rounds that followed, but lost Game 4 both times before winning Game 5.
While there might be some tangible benefits to having the Carolina series go five games -- another payday for ownership in the form of a Game 5 at Mellon Arena Friday, and a shorter layoff before the start of the Stanley Cup final -- the Penguins don't want to risk giving the Hurricanes reason to believe they can get back into the series.
Most of the Penguins, of course, realize that only two teams in Stanley Cup history have won a series when facing a 3-0 deficit. They also are aware that zero clubs have won a series when facing a 4-0 deficit, which proves that the only surefire way to prevent an opponent from winning a series is to win it yourself.
Yesterday, Bylsma didn't seem concerned about his players losing focus now that they have taken a stranglehold on the conference final, partly because they have seen how resilient the Hurricanes can be.
"We know this team's not going to quit," he said. "We know that's their trademark, they're going to keep coming at us.
"While we have a lead, we know we need to get one more win to get this thing done with. [Getting it] right now is better than waiting, so we'll be ready on Tuesday for what we need to do."
That means doing a lot of things they have done for the first three games -- getting the play into the Carolina end and keeping it there, for example, and launching lots of pucks at Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward -- and, if possible, doing them even more effectively.
"We still think we can get better," Bylsma said. "Play better, manage the puck better, execute better."
That has got to be a scary thought for Carolina, which overcame major adversity against New Jersey and Boston in the first two rounds, but has found the Penguins to be far more opportunistic than the Devils or Bruins.
"We're seeing a little different offensive machine here," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said yesterday. "I'm sure you go back to all those games and you think of the overtime game against New Jersey where they came out and had three or four great chances, and down we went and scored to win that game.
"With the shooters [the Penguins] have, that game may be over [before Carolina scores]."
And now, the series might be over before the Hurricanes realize they were in one. Their willingness to compete is admirable, but whether it's enough to get them back into the series is another matter.
"We've never been in this spot before," Carolina center Eric Staal said. "But if I was to pick a team to be in this spot to try to come back, this would be the one.
"Because of what we've done earlier, and we've done at this playoffs, we're going to take it one game at a time, we're going to come back Tuesday [and] work our tails off. Because that's what we do."
Right up until they go through the handshake line.
First Published May 25, 2009 12:00 am