For Pittsburghers, the biggest story is not this team in Carolina but the big-chinned dude playing with the goal horn.
On Monday evening the Pittsburgh Penguins showed North America and the rest of the world why they are the reigning Eastern Conference champions. Much like the tilt between the Red Wings and Blackhawks, it was clear one of these teams had been here last year and the other had not. Sure, many key components to the Cane’s cup run several years ago remains in tact. But can anyone who actually watched the game thing that the end was going to turn out differently (at least for the first 55 minutes)?
One thing that would have been far more unlikely to predict would be the goals scored by Miroslav Satan and Philippe Boucher; two players who had been invisible for the bulk of the regular season.
Despite the early goals by Satan and Malkin, the Canes seemed to be able to skate with the Penguins for the bulk of the first and second period. However, the Penguins were the far more physical of the two teams and by the third period, the Canes were dragging their skates across the ice.
Known as the ‘Cadiac Canes’ the Hurricanes have made a season of spotting the opposition leads only to catch up and tie the game in the final period. While this may work on a slumping Devils team or an inexperienced Bruins team, it does not fly against a team that has not only been one of the hottest in the league since the middle of February, but is also faster, stronger, deeper, and more playoff hardened than the other teams in the Eastern Conference this year. For the Penguins, their biggest opposition to the Stanley Cup finals may well have been the Capitals.
This is where the Penguins need to not make a mistake. The Canes have taken their first two rounds to seven games and have some serious punch with Ward in net and Eric Staal up front. Still, they were clearly no match for the Penguins who sent wave after wave of forwards into the Canes’ zone. With Ruutu and Cole sustaining injuries during the game, the Canes lack of depth and grit is exasperated two-fold. Without their two best wingers, players like Samsonov, Bayda, Larose, and Jokinen will be asked to step up their games further.
Another point of weakness on the Carolina roster is on defense. Rutherford went to great lengths these past two seasons to make his defense more mobile and offensively minded – which he has. Still, Babchuck, Pitkanen, Corvo, and Gleason are not what you would call an ideal top-four.
If the Penguins keep the forecheck going and remain fairly healthy, this series should last no longer than five or six games. If they Penguins however allow the Canes to play the style of game they want, it could be a long series with a surprise ending.
Like in game one, the Penguins played a relatively passive game by in the first two periods. Their style of game though has obviously warn the Canes out by the third and if Carolina wants make this series last beyond four games, they need to come up with an answer to the Penguins suffocating forecheck.
Evgeni Malkin established himself as a superior forward in the NHl after his hat-trick. Crosby had already established himself as a superior playoff talent in round two but Malkin was still a question. After his dominance in game two of round three, there is little question as to whether the center can produce in the playoffs.
After Malkin’s third goal, the one that made the game 6-4, the Hurricanes appeared to have given up the game and started to plan for the third. This passive style of play is something I have seen in the past few series and it has always resulted in the team not going on to the next round.
At 18:41 something happened in this game. While the casual onlooker may say, “oh, they’re frustrated, sending a message for game three,” I say, there is a team that’s frustration is brimming to the service. It would be one thing if this was a game four but this is game two. This type of panic in the Carolina Hurricane’s play this early in the series does not bode well for them. Maurice will have to calm this squad down if he expects to make a series out of this.
One thing that has been stressed repeatedly is that the Canes will get the last change when they play in Carolina. For most teams this is a benefit but with Malkin and Crosby centering separate and effective scoring lines, it really becomes a moot point. Especially considering the Penguins star centers are getting doubled shifted between Miroslav Satan and Craig Adams. It is widely expected Maurice will use a defensive pairing to shadow one of the lines and a forward line to shadow the other. I hope for the sake of the Canes that Maurice opts to not play Matt Cullen against Sidney Crosby. Rod Brind-Amour did not appear to fair much better.
It seems as though Maurice used Gleason against the Crosby line too. As we all witnessed, with Maurice focused on trying to take Crosby out of the game (which he did not), Malkin was allowed to dictate his will against the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes early on appeared to try to outscore the Penguins. Which few teams in the NHL should even think about doing. Expect them to try and tighten up for game three.
Not that it will matter.
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Written by Ian Altenbaugh