Dead in the water.
That's where the Chicago Blackhawks were last night. They had blown a 3-0 lead in less than five minutes and wound up in overtime against the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Red Wings, with a 2-0 series lead, looked like they were ready to toss the Hawks' casket into a hole and would only need another game to scoop on the dirt.
And then Patrick Sharp struck and it was a 2-1 series.
Take notice, Carolina Hurricanes: a 2-0 deficit isn't a death sentence.
The Pittsburgh Penguins know this, having lost Games 1 and 2 at Washington before roaring back to win four of the final five games in their Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Capitals.
Not only can Pittsburgh expect a desperate team, but they will also see matchups the Canes want, rather than the home-ice line matching the Pens implemented in the series' first two games. That means getting Eric Staal away from younger brother Jordan. It also means the Canes will be able to send out the forwards and defense pairings they think can best slow Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
But the biggest duel will be in net, where Cam Ward and Marc-Andre Fleury will face off after both looked shaky in Game 2. Ward received little help Thursday in a 7-4 loss (he allowed six of them), while Fleury gave up four goals on just 25 shots.
There is also some silver lining. The Hurricanes have had the better special teams, scoring one goal in five power plays (20 percent) while allowing just one in eight Pittsburgh opportunities (87.5 percent kill rate), but their inability to manage a good chance on a 4-on-3 advantage in Game 2 was arguably the turning point.
Carolina is also getting secondary scoring, with Chad LaRose scoring in both games of the series and Rod Brind'Amour registering a point in the team's last three games (a goal and two assists). And while Ray Whitney has seemed quiet, he has an assist in each of the team's past three outings.
One player who hasn't produced is Staal, the Hurricanes' top postseason scorer (nine goals, five assists in 16 games). But the team has struggled to find consistent linemates for Staal, and injuries to Erik Cole — who played Game 2 despite an injured knee — and Tuomo Ruutu haven't helped. Ruutu missed Game 2 and is in doubt for tonight's game. The Canes missed his physicality and the space he creates for himself and his linemates.
Carolina wasn't lacking in the toughness department at the end of Game 2, doing some frustration-driven message-sending to the Penguins. Ryan Bayda was guilty of a match penalty high stick to Pens defender Kris Letang, while Patrick Eaves and Tim Gleason dropped the gloves (with widely varying degrees of success). Bayda was spared a suspension by the league offices, but Carolina will need more than fists and anger to slow the Pittsburgh offense.
Game time is 7:30 p.m. at the RBC Center and can be seen on Versus (available in HD) and heard n 99.9 The Fan.