RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins learned so much during last year's exhilarating run to the Stanley Cup Finals. But perhaps, the most valuable lesson of all was the realization that it is hard to put a team away at this point of year.
Heck, all they need to do is look at their own performance in the Stanley Cup Final against Detroit. The Red Wings had Pittsburgh on the ropes in Game 5, leading the series, 3-1. In the first four games, Detroit had out-scored Pittsburgh, 11-4, and had shut out the Penguins in each of the first two games.
So, what happened when the Red Wings returned to Joe Louis Arena for its expected coronation in Game 5? Pittsburgh pulled out a 3-2 win in triple overtime, putting a scare in the Red Wings.
So, there is no need to worry about the Penguins taking the Carolina Hurricanes lightly -- even after putting up a 16-8 advantage in goals in taking the first three games of the best-of-7 series -- in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Pittsburgh has its first chance to put the Hurricanes away Tuesday in Game 4 here at the RBC Center (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS) and this team is eager to do just that -- especially with some of the escape jobs the “Cardiac ‘Canes” have pulled off in the first two rounds.
"I think the task at hand is clear," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said Sunday, just 13 hours after his team took a 6-2 decision in Game 3 to put a stranglehold on this series. "You know the series is 3-0. We know this team's not going to quit. We know that's their trademark, they're going to keep coming at us.
"They've proven that even though the games have ended up with lots of goals on the board. They've been fighting right to the end."
Expect Bylsma to point out to his club that each of the three games was close in the third period. In Game 2, the game was tied 4-4 early in the third before the individual brilliance of Evgeni Malkin turned the game on its ear and led to a 7-4 final. Saturday night, in Game 3, Carolina had cut the lead to 3-2 in the second minute of the third period before the Penguins ripped off three goals, including, an empty-netter to salt away the game.
But these Penguins probably don't need the reminder. They want to get back to the Stanley Cup Final -- and win this time. To have the best opportunity to do that, the players know it is in their best interest to expend as little energy as possible in putting away a Carolina team that is starting to show the wear-and-tear of forcing each of the first two rounds to a Game 7.
"Obviously we know we have an opportunity now, but I don't think we've let ourselves get that far ahead," said captain Sidney Crosby, who had a goal and an assist Saturday night. "We've been focused on what we need to do.
"We had a similar approach last year, but this year, a little more experience helps. But at the same time, it's still hard work, and we're still not there. We're working hard, but I think we're just focusing on what we have to do right now at the present."
What the Penguins need to do in Game 4 is expect Carolina to turn in its best game. The Hurricanes have shown both the Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins that this team does not understand the meaning of the word quit.
So, the home team will do whatever it can to extend this series and force a return trip to Pittsburgh; a trip that, at worst, would cost Pittsburgh a few precious days off.
"I expect what we got tonight," forward Bill Guerin said. "I expect them to come out hard and fight for their lives and I expect us to be ready for that."
And, in case the players forget what a veteran like Guerin is predicting, Bylsma will make sure he reminds them repeatedly during the next 48 hours.