PITTSBURGH – The Carolina Hurricanes are never one and done.
Lose the first game of a playoff series? No big deal to the Hurricanes, who usually play their best when challenged. They trail Pittsburgh 1-0 in the Eastern Conference final, but they’ve won each of the last five series in which they dropped the opener.
Carolina also lost Game 1s to New Jersey and Boston in the opening two rounds, but rallied each time to win Game 7 on the road. They wouldn’t mind at all going to seven against the Penguins, even if Pittsburgh owns the home-ice advantage.
“Been there, done that – done it twice,” defenceman Tim Gleason said Tuesday. “Kind of like a routine of ours.”
Only it’s not the preferable method of putting away the Penguins, who, since Sidney Crosby moved into their lineup, haven’t lost any playoff series in which they owned a lead. They’re 5-0 the last two seasons when they’ve grabbed a lead, and 7-0 since 2000 – when they won the first two games at Philadelphia in the second round, then lost the next four.
Maybe it’s a reflection of their 21-year-old captain’s ability to respond when they’ve gained the edge on an opponent, but the Crosby-led Penguins are quickly developing a habit of finishing off teams once they seize control.
The last two seasons, they haven’t needed more than six games to win any of the four series in which they won the opener.
“I think in our heads, we know what to do to win, even in a game when we have a lead or we’re looking for a goal, we usually go get it,” forward Max Talbot said. “That’s a great attitude we have and I think that’s the team mentality for ourselves, and it’s great to have that.”
Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward could sense that confidence during the Penguins’ 3-2 victory in Game 1 on Monday. Once they got a goal, he said, they seemed to go into a different gear searching for a second goal. They got it, too, as Miroslav Satan and Evgeni Malkin scored less than 90 seconds apart during a brief but game-altering flurry during the first period.
“They get that (Satan) goal, they sail in, they play a much better game after that,” Ward said.
Keeping any momentum, however, may prove more difficult in this series for both teams. There are two-day breaks before Game 2 on Thursday and Game 4 on Tuesday and, if necessary, another before Game 5 on May 29. That can be a long time to sustain any perceived advantage, and the Penguins clearly dislike having so much time off.
“I’d rather play,” said goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who came up with probably his best game of the playoffs in Game 1. “It’s too much of a wait for the next game. It seems too long.”
It may not for injured Hurricanes forwards Tuomo Ruutu and Erik Cole, both of whom sustained unspecified lower-body injuries. Ruutu didn’t return after defenceman Mark Eaton appeared to kick a leg out from beneath him early in the first period. Cole was hurt late in the third by a knee-to-knee hit from forward Matt Cooke.
Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice refused to lobby for a fine or suspension for Cooke, saying, “I just coach.”
Ruutu and Cole are two of Carolina’s most physical players, and losing them for even one game would weaken a team that relies on constant pressure and staying within a system to generate scoring chances. Ruutu, however, is optimistic he will be ready by Thursday night.
“Those guys are irreplaceable,” forward Chad LaRose said. “Those guys are big pieces of our team. … It would be tough to lose them.”
Cole, who doesn’t have a goal in 15 playoff games, must be growing to dislike Mellon Arena. He broke two vertebrae in his neck during a hit from behind by Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik in March 2006, and he didn’t return until Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals against Edmonton.
“It won’t change our style (if Ruutu and Cole can’t play),” Maurice said.
The Penguins quickly learned that style is much different from that of Washington, which leaned on star Alex Ovechkin and its top-line forwards. Ovechkin had half as many goals (8) in the Penguins series as all the Hurricanes produced (16) against Boston.
“They’ll come at you and come at you, and I think they have more a team mentality than Washington,” Talbot said. “That team can beat you one-on-one easier, (gets) big goals by big players, and this team keeps on coming and works for their goals.”