In the end, it was a rare miss for the Cardiac Canes.
After Joe Corvo cut it to within one, it was almost a given that Carolina would force overtime, even with just 1:26 left on the clock. That confidence may not have made sense to the Penguins or to a national audience getting to see the Canes closely for the first time, but those who have been following them throughout this postseason have come to expect it.
This time, it just wasn’t in the cards. Eric Staal came close with his near miss on the doorstep that had a chance to go in off Marc-Andre Fleury’s back, if not straight in. Even a long shot from the blue line intended as a dump-in more than a scoring chance almost evened the game on a crazy bounce.
Now we face the first of three agonizing sets of two-day breaks in this series before these teams go at it again on Thursday. After the game, Fleury said that the Penguins would like to get right back into it and play Game 2 as soon as possible, which I think the Canes might also say after a game in which they played pretty well for the most part, with the exception of a brief but damaging meltdown in the first period. They should be eager to atone for that in Game 2.
However, the scheduling should actually do them some good as Erik Cole and Tuomo Ruutu get a chance to rest. Both players left the game with lower body injuries, with an immediate update on their status not available.
While they’ve combined for just one goal this postseason, they are important in establishing the team’s forecheck and cycling game in the offensive zone, and would be sorely missed if they can’t go for the next game. We’ve seen two-day breaks work out both ways momentum-wise, so I don’t think that side of it matters much, but playing just three games in the next 10 days could be crucial for those two.
In terms of the costly stretch of play in the first, it wasn’t surprising to see the momentum turn after the Penguins’ initial goal. After killing two early Pittsburgh power plays, the Canes had been getting some good chances on their own man-advantage before Miroslav Satan snuck in behind the Carolina defense and rushed in on a breakaway. Those goals can be deflating in any situation and seem to hurt this team more than most, last night being no different.
It became an early test for the Canes, who weren’t happy with their response in a similar situation in Game 6 of the Boston series. In that one, the Bruins scored two early goals, which threw the Canes off their game for the rest of the night. This time, they managed to regroup and give themselves a real chance to get back into a contest that was threatening to slip away altogether. Consider that lesson learned.
They may not have needed a dramatic comeback, as Fleury managed to stave off a number of good Carolina scoring chances throughout the game. Give him credit for making the big saves, as the Canes were able to force turnovers in the Pittsburgh zone and keep the puck there for long stretches, which bodes well for the remainder of the series. In Game 1, whether it was making an extra pass or being a little too hesitant in taking the open shot, they just didn’t quite have the killer instinct they needed to capitalize more often.
All in all, there were good things to take from the first game – certainly more than the opening games of the last two series. A big part of how they feel for Game 2 will depend how Cole and Ruutu are doing, as the Canes are facing their first real stretch of documented injury trouble this postseason. No practice today, but we should have some updates from the team’s media availability this afternoon.
Last word on the injuries – both were caused by leg-on-leg contact that falls into the grey area of what’s legal and what isn’t, sparking a wide range of opinion. Some say dirty, others say not. In Cole’s case, Hurricanes Coach Paul Maurice said he thought it was a knee-on-knee hit, with the culprit, Matt Cooke, already having a bit of a reputation. Earlier this season, he was suspended two games for an elbow on Scott Walker that caused the Canes winger to miss most of the regular season's second half with concussion problems.