The Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins played wide open Thursday night and the home team took full advantage of some loose play in the Carolina zone to win game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, 7-4.
Sidney Crosby opened the scoring just 1:51 into the game, but his goal was answered by Chad LaRose, just one minute later. Five minutes after that, Evgeni Malkin would score the first of his three goals on the night as he skated in from the bench untouched, but Jussi Jokinen knocked in a shot just 25 seconds later to tie the game once more.
Before the end of the period, Dennis Seidenberg flicked in a knuckling shot and the Hurricanes actually went into the first intermission with a 3-2 lead.
The tide turned in the second period though as the Penguins out-shot the Hurricanes 16-6 and scored two more goals to take back the lead. The Canes started out the period with some nice possession time, but once again did not put the puck on net enough to take advantage of their short-lived dominance.
About midway through the period, Carolina had one of the most sought-after opportunities for a hockey team, a four on three advantage. But due to soft passing and lack of movement, (and zero shots), the team squandered that golden opportunity and everything went downhill after that.
Patrick Eaves would tie the score 4-4, just two minutes into the final period because of a nice hustle play behind the net by Ryan Bayda. It was his first goal of the postseason. But it would be all Penguins after that, as Evgeni Malkin completed a hat-trick to put the game out of reach. Once again the favorites outshot the Canes, (14-8) in the deciding period.
Things got very chippy at the end, precipitated by a Ryan Bayda hit after an icing call. Bayda ended up getting a match penalty for a "high stick intent to injure" and could be suspended depending upon the outcome of a mandatory review by the league. Tim Gleason, Patrick Eaves, Miro Satan, and Kris Letang picked up fighting majors as frustration overcame discipline after the play.
The Hurricanes will try to stop the bleeding when the two teams meet again for a must win game for Carolina in Raleigh on Saturday night.
Carolina can not complain about the officiating in this game as the refs tried their best to swallow their whistles. The Canes were horrible on the powerplay and would have been better off staying five-on-five. Other than game 1 of this series, (1-2), the powerplay has been invisible almost the entire postseason.
Tuomo Ruutu must play if at all possible on Saturday. The Pens are doing a great job of rolling four lines while the Hurricanes primarily go with three. It seemed like the Canes ran out of gas in the third period again as the Pens were skating at will in the Carolina zone. Patrick Eaves played all of three minutes, even though he scored a goal. He was also on the ice during the fiasco in the final 1:02. As I predicted, Dwyer and Bayda played about 4 minutes each and Jokinen moved to wing. Craig Adams was low man on Pittsburgh with over 10 minutes of TOI.
For the record, I hate to see shenanigans like that at the end of a game. If the Canes wanted to play it tough, they had all game to do it and they should have done it in front of their own net. Bayda is not the first player to make a late hit in this series, but that was not a smart play at that time.
Carolina needs to figure out who is coming off the bench for the Pens and get their own line changes in order. They have allowed at least three goals in this series because of bad line changes.
For all the talk before the series about Cam Ward being better than MA Fleury, Ward has yet to prove it. You can't place all the blame at his feet, but he still needs to play better. One analyst said that the goalie looks "shot". He has been used non-stop for months now and had been top notch for a long period of time. Can he keep it up or is he used up? Ward will need to return to his best form at the RBC or the series will be over.
The Pens outshot the Canes 42-28 and now have a 73-53 two game total.
Falling behind in the series by a 2-0 deficit is not how the Hurricanes wanted to return home, but the lead is not insurmountable. Carolina fell behind Montreal 2-0 in 2006 and went to one of the toughest places in the NHL for a visitor to play, and swept the Habs. The Pens fell behind the Caps 2-0 in the last series and came back to win. This series is far from over, but the team has a lot of work to do.