But while the nerves of even the most positive Caniacs may be a bit frayed by now in this close first-round series with the arch-playoff rival New Jersey Devils, expect
Carolina’s players to embrace Game 6 – and the perceived pressure that comes along with it.
Granted, Carolina is down 3-2 in the best-of-seven matchup, having to win two straight against a stingy New Jersey defense and suddenly ultra-hot future Hall of Fame goalie to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals. But if you break down this series, and particularly the last two games, the Canes enter this do-or-die situation brimming with confidence, as well they should.
“It would be one thing if we didn’t think we could win or we weren’t playing well and they were all over us and we were not even in the games, but it’s not like that, and we all feel it,” said captain Rod Brind’Amour. “We definitely feel like we’re right there. If we were getting five shots a game or five chances a game I would say we’re in trouble. We’ll throw everything at them and see what happens.”
Just how much more can Carolina throw at Brodeur after registering 46 and 44 shots against him in the last two games? Some would say the kitchen sink, others more quality chances. Neither may have worked Thursday night in New Jersey.
“He played well (in Game 5) but a lot of pucks just hit him and he had no clue where they were, so we need to keep getting shots on him. One will eventually go,” said defenseman Joe Corvo. “This isn’t something we look at and feel like we can’t do it. We’re going to come out firing on Sunday, and then we’ll worry about that other game.
“There probably is a temptation (offensively) to maybe try to do too much or things you normally don’t do, but we’ve talked about that and we’re not going to fall into that trap,” he added. “We’re going to stick to what we’re going. We’ve had a lot of chances.”
It appears the Devils, a faster team than New Jersey’s station-to-station history has embraced for years, are starting to skate with Carolina. That should make the Canes salivate, because few teams in the NHL can match the speed of Carolina when it is motoring, certainly not New Jersey.
As long as the Devils continue to play “Carolina’s game” the Canes have more than a puncher’s chance to win two straight – something neither team has been able to accomplish in a matchup that has produced four straight one-goal games.
“That part of our game is there, but you still have to find a way to score,” said Brind’Amour, referring to Carolina’s skating ability and offense that has resulted in the peppering of Brodeur, but has just nine goals in five games. “We’ve got to find a way to get it in, maybe a bounce here or there our way and that might open things up a little bit. We have to throw everything we have at it.”
As great as Brodeur has played, Cam Ward has been his match at the other end of the ice, stopping 179 shots – the highest total of any goalie in the playoffs so far. Ward’s stellar play down the stretch and into the postseason has allowed the Canes to concentrate on its offensive stride, knowing Ward’s glove, angles and confidence will be there when it counts.
“Cam has done his job, he’s kept us in every game,” Brind’Amour said. “That’s all you can ask of him.”
“It’s great that Cam is playing so good because it’s something we don’t even have to worry about each game, we know he’s going to be there and it’s up to us to score some goals,” added Corvo.
Remember, there was a time in December and January when the Canes struggled to score, but was rolling offensively over the final six weeks of the season. However, playoff hockey can be quite different offensively, especially against the Devils, who make you work hard to accomplish time and space needed to produce good scoring chances.
“We’re just that close,” Corvo said.
“I think we took 72 attempts at shooting the puck (in Game 5), and you want to make sure you don’t pull back from that after not scoring,” coach Paul Maurice said. “And that happens sometimes. If you don’t score sometimes it’s tough taking a shot because you’re looking for something better. You know, it’s like ‘I’ve tried that shot 15 times and it hasn’t gone in, let’s change that up.’ That could be dangerous against that team because they don’t give you a lot of room to move the puck around in the offensive zone.”
Maurice changed up the lines some in Game 5, and will look at doing the same Sunday night, but that can be risky, fiddling with chemistry that produced a late-season playoff charge.
Ward, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in 2006, believes that year’s Stanley Cup experience will serve the Canes well over the weekend, when the pressure is on.
“When you look around the locker room, look at the back wall, all of those guys were here for 2006,” Ward said, referring to himself, Ray Whitney, Brind’Amour and Eric Staal, who all occupy lockers next to each other. “Our experience does help us. Even though this is a Game 6 we’ve got to treat it like it’s a Game 7. I’m confident we’ll come out and be prepared to play well.”
“You can’t put too much mental pressure on yourself that it’s an elimination game,” added Corvo. “You have to look at it that we’re home, we should be comfortable and we’ve got our crowd behind us. We’ll go out and relax and enjoy the whole atmosphere.”
“In some ways the pressure comes off us, because there is an excitement in the room and a tension,” added Maurice. “Game 7s are a little different because both teams are feeling it. When your back is against the wall a lot of times you see our best.”
It’s OK to be a little bit on edge Caniacs. Our slogan: “Our Team, Our Time” is certainly in some form of jeopardy. But the Carolina Hurricanes appear ready to play to win -- not the contrary – playing afraid of losing. The loyal fan base should follow suit. Cheer hard for a Game 7 and all the drama and nervous energy that comes with it.
Remember, we’ve been there before, we know what it takes.