FS-CR/TV - Well. Um. At least it wasn’t 4-1 for a change?
The Hurricanes managed to hold league poster boy Sidney Crosby without a shot on goal through two periods for the first time in the postseason and allowed him only two in the third. Aside from Marc-Andre Fleury, who outplayed Cam Ward tonight (didn’t expect that one, as Fleury has been shaky in the playoffs thus far,) Carolina caught the Penguins on an off night but couldn’t complete a comeback after falling into another early hole and dropped Game 1, 3-2.
Mellon Arena continues to be an injury whirlpool for the ‘Canes, who couldn’t seem to escape the arena without a long-term injury for several years. Erik Cole broke his neck there in 2006 and was injured in a knee-on-knee with Matt Cooke collision tonight. Cole was not pleased with the play and after writhing on the ice for a few minutes, called out the Penguins bench after he took a seat. Tuomo Ruutu went down in the first period after Mark Eaton stuck out his leg and swept Ruutu’s out from under him. Ruutu went down hard and left with the dreaded, nonspecific “lower body injury” and didn’t return. The ‘Canes’ two most physical forwards may now be out for Game 2.
The Hurricanes didn’t wait to get their feet when and appeared focused right out of the gate in Game 1, something that hasn’t before. They killed off two early power plays and managed several good chances on Fleury after a make-up call in their favor. However, things took a quick turn. Again, it looked as though someone informed the team that it had no right to walk in and win Game 1 in its opponent's building, and for a while in the first it looked like the players believed it.
The ‘Canes coughed up three one-on-one breakaways during the game and miraculously, only one turned into a goal. After Miroslav Satan exited the box following an the ‘Canes’ first power play in the first period, he skated off on a breakaway. He deked out Ward and gave the Penguins an early lead.
A minute and a half later, Penguin wunderkind Evgeni Malkin came in from the right circle and tucked a shot just under Ward’s arm before the Carolina goaltender could close the gap.
In the second period, Chad LaRose brought the ‘Canes within one. LaRose took a no-look pass from Cole, who played an excellent game before he was injured, and fired one past Fleury.
Later in the second, the Hurricanes had a goal disallowed. The puck sailed into the net just as Cole crashed into it, sending a Penguin toppling into Fleury. The referee whistled the goal off and gave the Penguins a power play.
The Penguin’s Philippe Boucher’s shot dribbled past Ward in the power play in the third, giving the Penguins a power play goal in their seventh consecutive game. Tim Gleason saw the puck moving slowly over the line and jumped back to stop it, but it was too late. The final tally was one the Hurricanes couldn’t make up.
The shots flew both ways and the 'Canes had ample opportunities to tie it up, but Fleury was simply outstanding. With the Ward pulled, only ten forwards on the bench and a power play in its favor, the defensive core came up big with a Joe Corvo goal to put the ‘Canes within one again. Corvo’s shot sailed through traffic and slid past Fleury.
Only one goal to go to save a so-so effort by the ‘Canes in Game 1. The puck found its way through four sets of sticks and skates and onto Staal’s stick, but he was so surprised that he didn’t bury the puck into the open net. His shot met Fleury’s stick as he slid across the crease in a very lucky break for the Pens. The ‘Canes couldn’t put the pressure on in the final seconds and the final was 3-2, a much closer margin than ever before.
As Game 1 was not a 4-1 blowout as it has been in the first two series openers for the ‘Canes, the big question is whether the ‘Canes can use this as motivation for a better effort for Game 2. It has worked twice, but with a margin this small, will the ‘Canes have the same jump that has allowed them to outplay their higher-seeded opponents and return home with a tied series? I think so. This was a heartening effort for the Hurricanes – except for the injuries to Ruutu and Cole, which are just sickening – because they forced the Penguins to play their game. If they can avoid the early brain farts and put some more bodies in front of Fleury, Game 2 could turn in their favor.
Besides maintaining focus and keeping that chip entrenched in their shoulder, what do the ‘Canes need to do to tie the series? First and foremost, keep Crosby in check. The ‘Canes managed to collectively shut Crosby down tonight and anyone who follows the Pens even the slightest bit knows how he can take over a game. If the same could happen to Malkin – unlikely, but you never know – the Penguins would be hard-pressed to come up with offense as so much of it is tied up in their first two lines. The ‘Canes need to clamp down on the penalty kill because that has been Pittsburgh’s bread and butter. The Boucher goal came at the tail end of a power play and overall the ‘Canes’ PK played well tonight, and that needs to continue. The ‘Canes’ defensive scoring has been vital to their success all year, but absolutely no pinching on to make that happen, ya hear? The Penguins seem to watch for those opportunities and then swoop into the kill. The team is so fast, and if it gets behind the defense, watch out.
There was too much fancy passing in this game. As the ‘Canes have alluded in every postgame following a loss, “keep it simple, stupid!” The Hurricanes would hesitate, looking for that perfect pass, and by the time they got the shot off it would be too late. The two goals came as a result of two plays in which the scorer was not afraid to shoot the puck.
Game 2 was inexplicably bumped from Wednesday to Thursday at 7:30. Hopefully the ‘Canes won’t be down a man or two, but if they are, look for a few postseason debuts by the “Black Aces.” Check back on Triangle Offense for more news regarding injuries and rumors.