VERSUS/TV—Cam Ward, who has become almost expected to backstop the ‘Canes to victory after each loss, was lit up for six goals and the ‘Canes went down in flames, 7-4, in Game 2. Each of the upcoming games in Raleigh on Saturday and Tuesday are now must-wins, as a loss would put the ‘Canes on the brink.
Carolina picked up the pace in both previous Game 2’s, which were both preceded by blowouts. Perhaps fans should have wished for a 8-1 rout in Game 1, because in the latter two periods, it seemed the ‘Canes’ hearts weren’t in it. After climbing back twice and even pulling ahead in the first period, the Hurricanes were outscored 5-1 over the latter two periods.
He’s hardly the reason the ‘Canes lost, but I’m going to call out Eric Staal anyway. He is not being covered as hard or as well as he was during the Boston series, yet the perennial playoff workhorse has one point in two games and no goals in five. After rocking the first round and a half and climbing the scoring charts with nine goals, Staal looks to have shifted into autopilot. The ‘Canes need him to score badly in order to have a chance of climbing out of this 2-0 hole. No pressure or anything.
The loss of Ruutu to injury left the 'Canes without options on offense and the fourth line, into which Patrick Dwyer was inserted (and not one of Triangle Offense's three proposals, oops!) did not see any regular ice time until the third period, when the game was sealed and postmarked.
The ‘Canes allowed two early goals after long shifts in which Carolina could not manage to get the puck out of the zone. Sidney Crosby notched his first of the season off a give-and-go with Chris Kunitz. Evgeni Malkin pounced on a juicy rebound in front to give the Penguins the edge again.
Carolina responded in a formulaic manner as well. A little over a minute after the Crosby goal, Chad LaRose picked up a rebound in front of the net with bumper-to-bumper traffic distracting Fleury. Jussi Jokinen tied it up again the shift after Malkin’s goal, just 25 seconds later, grabbing a Scott Walker rebound and putting it past a scrambling Fleury. All of this happened before the 11:00 mark in the first period.
Carolina’s only lead of the night came midway through the firs period. The primary assist should have gone to Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang, who inadvertently sent a perfect one-time centering pass to Dennis Seidenberg at the point. Matt Cullen had planted himself squarely in Fleury’s line of sight and the shot soared past the goaltender, silencing the crowd.
The teams had already reached the final score of the previous game in the first 13 minutes. What more could you ask for? ‘Canes could have probably rolled with this sort of play all night, but this uncontained, back-and-forth style of hockey does not seem to suit the ‘Canes. A collapse was, in retrospect, inevitable.
The scoring slowed down after the first, at least for Carolina. Maxime Talbot scored on a modified breakaway right after another poor Carolina power play expired. Talbot wound up from well out while the ‘Canes rushed back from a line change and his shot beat Ward cleanly.
With seven seconds left in the period and the ‘Canes, once again, unable to clear the zone, an exhausted defensive core allowed the Pens’ Kunitz to snap a lengthy scoring drought and went into the third period down 4-3.
As the announcers said repeatedly, only three teams going into the third period down a goal or more have come back to win the game. One of those three comeback wins belonged to the ‘Canes. But even though they managed to tie it up, the Pens had the jump and they knew it.
Patrick Eaves—or else a cleverly-disguised Patrick Eaves impersonator—scored a stunner of a goal less than three minutes into the third. Eaves snapped a shot past Fleury glove side just inside the post, showing flashes of what led to him becoming a highly-touted first round pick. Perhaps the Eaves Imposter was not who the ‘Canes needed to lead the battle charged, because things went downhill fast after that.
You know that sadistic little kid on the playground that liked to sit on top of an anthill and fry the little buggers with a magnifying glass, cackling all the while? Well, guess who the ‘Canes were in this scenario. And the kid with the power to destroy in the blink of an eye? Well, it could only be one of two people on the Pittsburgh team.
Malkin struck again nine minutes in when he grabbed another rebound and put it over Ward’s foot. He completed his hat trick with one hell of a shot that just sneaked past Ward’s shoulder to make the score 6-4 and it took what felt like eons for the on-ice staff to clean the ice of ball caps.
Instead of getting angry, the ‘Canes shut down. It wasn’t entirely the team’s fault—with Mellon Arena rocking the way it was and the Pens playing with such confident tenacity, a comeback was not in the cards. Pens defenseman Tyler Kennedy got an empty-netter and the Pittsburgh fans certainly didn’t go home with that empty feeling.
Several scrums broke out, including one shady operation between Ryan Bayda that must have been much more severe than it appeared to the Versus-watching crowd, because he received a match penalty at 18:41. In the last five minutes of the game, this could mean disciplinary measures from the league. For real, this time.
This probably goes without saying, but the Hurricanes need to tighten up in a big way in order to prepare for Game 3. There is no more room for blunders, because one more could lead to a Pittsburgh stranglehold on the series. This Penguins team hardly seemed more threatening than Boston’s formidable defense, but their tenacious offense has taken off in the postseason just as it did last year. There have been points in the first two games—brief, but present—where the ‘Canes have contained and confounded the Penguins with smothering defense, and on home ice they need to put together a complete game of such play. As we’ve mentioned before, outscoring the Pittsburgh Penguins will not work; the ‘Canes tried it in the first. A home crowd, a renewed focus, the memories of a stinging loss sitting on their shoulder pads and maybe Tuomo Ruutu back (dare to dream, right?) could be enough to make this a series again.
What’s the alternative? What looks to be another Red Wings/Penguins final again. Excuse me while I stifle a yawn.
Game 3 is Saturday at 7:30 p.m.