Playoff History: This is the first Stanley Cup Playoffs meeting between the franchises.
Brotherly Love? Brothers Eric and Jordan Staal will oppose each other for the first time in an NHL playoff series and could well spend a great deal of time on the ice together. Eric is Carolina’s top-line center and offensive star. Jordan is Pittsburgh’s checking center who regularly is assigned to shut down the top opposing pivot. In last year’s Conference Semifinals, Jordan and the Penguins eliminated a third Staal brother, Marc of the Rangers.
Ronnie Franchise: Hurricanes associate head coach Ron Francis is one of the most popular figures in the history of both franchises. Francis is the Hurricanes' all-time leader in goals, assists and points and had his number 10 retired by the club in January, 2006. He also played eight seasons in Pittsburgh and was a key member of the Penguins' back-to-back Stanley Cup championship clubs in 1991 and 1992.
Change is Doubly Good: Both teams made midseason coaching changes pay off. Carolina replaced Peter Laviolette with Paul Maurice on Dec. 3 and the Hurricanes went 33-19-5 the rest of the regular season. Pittsburgh replaced Michel Therrien with Dan Bylsma on Feb. 15 and went 18-3-4 thereafter. In both cases, familiarity helped breed success. Maurice had previously coached the Hurricanes from 1995-2003, guiding them to the 2002 Stanley Cup Final. Bylsma had been an assistant coach for two seasons with Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate Wilkes Barre-Scranton before being elevated to that club’s head coach to begin this season. The last team to win the Stanley Cup after making a coaching change during the season was the 1999-2000 New Jersey Devils, who replaced Robbie Ftorek with Larry Robinson.
Forward Thinking: Each team was bolstered by trade deadline-beating deals for veteran forwards. Carolina brought back home-grown RW Erik Cole from Edmonton in a three-way deal on deadline day (March 4) and went 12-3-2 after his return. Cole scored 15 goals in 17 games after the trade and helped spark a late surge by Staal. Pittsburgh loaded up for the stretch run by dealing for LW Chris Kunitz and RW Bill Guerin in the week leading up to the deadline. Guerin has five goals and four assists and Kunitz has seven assists in the playoffs.
Precocious Goaltenders: As a 22-year-old in 2006, Cam Ward became the fourth rookie goaltender in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoffs MVP when he backstopped Carolina to the Stanley Cup. At age 23 last spring, Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant -- 1.97 goals against average -- in getting the Penguins all the way to Game 6 of the Final.
Better Late than Never: The Cardiac ‘Canes have made it impossible to turn away from their games until the final buzzer sounds. They snatched first-round series victory away from New Jersey with a stunning two goals in the final 1:20 of Game 7. And that was after Jokinen’s goal with 0.2 seconds left won Game 4. They then won twice in overtime in the Conference Semifinals by bouncing back after blowing third-period leads.
Special Somethings: Pittsburgh’s potent power play has clicked on 19.7% of its chances in the playoffs, with Crosby (five) and Malkin (four) leading the postseason in PPGs. But Carolina’s penalty killing has been tremendous, permitting only five goals in 54 times shorthanded – a 90.7 percent success rate. The battle figures to be less titanic when a Penguin is penalized. The Hurricanes have scored just five power-play goals on 48 playoff chances while Pittsburgh’s PK ranks a middling seventh among the 16 teams that made the postseason.
Season Series: The teams split their four regular-season meetings, with each winning once at home and once on the road. The Penguins prevailed in the first two meetings -- 4-1 at Pittsburgh on Oct. 23 and 5-2 at Carolina on Dec. 4. The Hurricanes won, 2-1, at Pittsburgh on Jan. 20 and 3-2 in overtime at Carolina on Apr. 4. Centers Sidney Crosby (1-6--7) and Evgeni Malkin (2-3--5) led Pittsburgh’s offense during the four games. Carolina G Cam Ward did not play in either of the first two meetings and held the Penguins to a total of three goals in two victories in the last two meetings.
Conference Semifinals Recap: Pittsburgh emerged from a star-studded, seven-game Conference Semifinal series with Washington by drubbing the Capitals, 6-2, in Game 7. The Penguins rallied after losing the first two games to win three straight. Crosby (8-5--13) and Caps LW Alex Ovechkin (8-6--14) more than lived up to the hype that surrounded their first postseason meeting. G Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove save on an Ovechkin breakaway early in Game 7 enabled the Pens to burst out to a 4-0 lead. Malkin (2-8--10) came on strong after a slow start in the series, scoring the OT winner in Game 5. D Kris Letang scored three goals in the series, including one in overtime to end Game 5.
Carolina survived its second straight seven-game series, eliminating Boston in the Conference Semifinals on RW Scott Walker’s goal 18:46 into overtime. It was Walker’s first goal in 25 career playoff games. G Cam Ward improved to 4-0 in career Game 7s and finished the series with a 2.32 goals against average and .915 save percentage. C Eric Staal and LW Sergei Samsonov led the Hurricanes with four goals apiece. LW Jussi Jokinen kept up his late-game heroics from the first-round, scoring two game-winning goals, one in overtime.
First-Round Recap: The Penguins eliminated the Philadelphia Flyers in the Conference Quarter-Finals, vanquishing their intra-state rival for the second consecutive playoff year. The series was capped by a 5-3 victory in Game 6 at Philadelphia, a match the Penguins had trailed, 3-0. Malkin, the NHL's scoring champion in the regular season, also led all players in the first round with 4-5--9. Crosby was one of three players tied for second with eight points (4-4--8).
The Hurricanes eliminated the New Jersey Devils in the Conference Quarter-Finals, scoring twice in the final 1:20 of Game 7 to make one of the most stunning turnarounds in playoff history. Staal scored the series-winning goal with just 32 ticks of the clock remaining and led the club in scoring with 5-2--7, but Jokinen also will be remembered for his heroics. Jokinen scored the go-ahead goal with 0.2 seconds remaining in Game 4 -- the latest game-winner in playoff regulation time ever -- and tallied the game-tying goal with 1:20 to play in Game 7.