In each of their two playoff series thus far, the feeling after Game 1 was that the Hurricanes had basically “spotted” their opposition one game.
That isn’t to say that New Jersey and Boston played poorly in the openers, because they were actually quite good, but Carolina came away from each contest knowing that they didn’t put up their best fight. In the end it didn’t matter quite as much because they were able to make adjustments and ultimately win each series, but giving away a game so easily becomes more and more treacherous each round.
“We’ve talked about our Game 1 and our Game 1 performance,” said Hurricanes Coach Paul Maurice. “We know that Pittsburgh is going to be very, very aggressive early in this game as they were in the Philly games and the Washington series. They really pushed hard at the start of those games, so this is going to be a critical start for us.”
“We need to be better,” said Eric Staal. “We know that. We've talked about it, and we've got to get to our game early and have a little extra edge, a little extra snarl. I think if we have that, we're going to get our chances and get a better result than we have in the last two series.”
While the Hurricanes can be quite aggressive themselves, part of their focus early on will be fending off the initial charge from a fired-up Penguins team looking to dictate the play on home ice. It might be tempting to join in on the run-and-gun early, but that’s something that a high-scoring Pittsburgh team and their fearsome two-headed monster would be all too happy to see.
“If we just said, ‘Let’s take 3-on-2s all night and we’ll trade them to see who wins, we’re going to win that game,” said Maurice. “At the same time, if you sit back against this team they’re just going to tear you apart. We have to find a way to establish our game.”
That’s two references to “our game” from both Maurice and Staal. Given how that was a focus leading into Game 7 of the Boston series, it’s not surprising to hear that term keep popping up. The reason they can be successful playing the way they do is that they can stack up against good defensive teams like the one’s they’ve bested in the playoffs so far, but should also be able to score goals with the more offensively-minded Penguins
That being said, the Hurricanes don’t want to let the opposition determine which way the game will be played. In Game 1, they’ll be looking to establish their own pace.
“We can’t go into this game and say that our entire job is to react to them,” said Maurice. “We’ll try to impose our will on them as they will on us.”
“I hope not,” said Tuomo Ruutu when asked if these games would be played with a more wide-open feel. “We know how we've been successful. I don't think we can play a wide open game and be successful. But we've played really good defense and got our chances from defending well, and I think we've got to keep doing that.”