The Carolina Hurricanes seemed to be a team of destiny. They survived two game 7's on the road, repeatedly overcame deficits in each previous series, and went on to defeat heavily favored opponents in rounds one and two. But the storybook postseason came to an end against the Pittsburgh Penguins last night as last year's Eastern Conference Champions captured the Prince of Wales Trophy once again by sweeping the Hurricanes at the RBC, 4-1.
Game 4 seemed eerily similar to a couple of the previous games as the Canes showed good life at the beginning of the contest, only to end up succumbing to the ever-pressing Penguins who came hard at the home team all night long.
Eric Staal started the scoring for Carolina just a minute and change into the contest as he somehow squeezed in a wrap-around chance past Marc-Andre Fleury. Staal performed like a superstar in this game as he looked like the most dynamic player on the ice at times. But unfortunately for the Hurricanes, he had little help from teammates when he was able to break free.
During the offseason, management should be looking for another skilled forward to compliment the center. Will they settle on Erik Cole? Stay tuned.
The Pens would tie the score just seven minutes later on a boom-boom play as Ruslan Fedotenko got behind the defense and tipped in a pass by Philippe Boucher. But the back-breaking goal came just a minute and change before the end of the period. As Max Talbot broke into the Hurricanes zone, defenseman Anton Babchuk slid over and seemingly played him perfectly. Babchuk fronted the forward and put a stick on Talbot's shot. But the puck took a fluky bounce and went straight in the air in slow motion over a surprised Carolina goalie's glove hand. After the game, Cam Ward said that he lost track of the puck for a moment until it got by him.
It was another gut-wrenching, end of period goal which has haunted the Hurricanes all series long.
The Canes battled hard, but could not get another puck past Fleury and the under-rated Penguins defense. About midway through the second period, Babchuk was involved in another scoring play for the opposition. The young defenseman attempted to keep the puck in the zone, but it bounced by him, (with the help of Sidney Crosby). Crosby took the puck in the Hurricanes zone and found a streaking Bill Guerin with a perfect pass at Cam Ward's doorstep. The vet, who was acquired in a trade deadline deal, chipped the puck in the net for a 3-1 lead.
Ex Hurricane, Craig Adams fittingly got the empty netter to finish up the scoring.
What can you say Caniacs? The bounces all seemed to go the other way and perhaps the Canes would have liked to get a few more calls. But it's hard to take anything away from the Penguins. They were like a runaway train that could not be stopped.
The Canes made a conscious effort to stop Evgeni Malkin in this game and succeeded in keeping him off the scoreboard. But that noteworthy accomplishment was not enough to earn the victory.
Eric Staal spoke after the game and complimented the competition, but team captain Rod Brind'Amour was not available. I get asked quite often if I think the captain will retire soon and my answer is no. But there are some whispers that Staal might be given the "C" next season. That's another subject for another day.
The Canes will be having team meetings for the next couple of days and will be undergoing the exit interview process. (Remember how upset Rutherford was that Laviolette skipped this process last season?)
As disappointing as this series turned out, there are a lot of positives to take from this season. The tailgating, the trips to the airport, the last second, heart-stopping wins, the record 12 game winning streak at home, and of course the extra hockey to watch. Perhaps more important than anything else, the team made money this year because of all the extra revenue.
If you are a fan of the Hurricanes, don't go anywhere. Unlike most of the mainstream media in the area, we will still be active every single day and will continue talking about the team and the NHL, all summer long. There is a lot to discuss-
- Which RFA's and UFA's will the Hurricanes attempt to sign?
- Will anyone be traded?
- Which youngsters can help the Canes next season?
- How can the team improve?
We will start out by grading each player, (with your help), we will continue getting interviews, and we will be providing other extra features. (A few readers have asked me to do a "day in the life of a blogger" article, so I am working on that.)
Is there something that you would like to see us do? Send a note to the suggestion box- firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for a great season Caniacs!