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Penguins showing they can play defense, too

by Shawn P. Roarke /
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Lost in the offensive explosions Pittsburgh has made commonplace this postseason is the defensive job the Penguins are doing in this Eastern Conference Finals.

Operation Shutdown continued Saturday night, when the Penguins held Carolina's top line without a point in a 6-2 victory in Game 3 that officially put Carolina's season on life support.

No. 1 center Eric Staal had six shots, but he has yet to score in this series and was a minus-3 Saturday night. Top-line winger Ray Whitney had three shots but finished minus-3 and also has not scored in this series. Erik Cole and Chad LaRose split time on the other side of Staal -- but neither generated much offense.

Most of those struggles are due to the fact that Pittsburgh has come up with a solid game plan to take Carolina's most dangerous line out of the equation.

Center Jordan Staal's line has been deployed as a checking unit -- and he's been asked to hound his older brother into submission. That cause has been aided by the fact that the Penguins have tried to get the shut-down pairing of Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi out on the ice whenever No. 12 hops over the boards.

''Jordan, his line, and Rob and Hal have had that assignment most of the time and they have done a tremendous job, so hats off to them," Pittsburgh defenseman Mark Eaton said.

While Pittsburgh went for a straight match in the first two games, it couldn't in Game 3. Carolina had the right to make the last change after stoppages in play and used that privilege to get away from matchups it didn't like whenever possible.

"It's a lot harder on road to get the matchups, so tonight it was more of everybody chipping in here and there and everybody doing their part," Eaton said. "That is what it takes in the playoffs."

According to Scuderi, who played a huge part in trying to shut down Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin in the last round, he and Gill were able to deploy against Eric Staal about 75 percent of the time Saturday night.

"It's something that Hal and I take pride in, that's our role and our way to help the team win," said Scuderi, who was even in almost 21 minutes of ice time in Game 3. "Maybe it's not played up because we have so many great players. But, when we are in here, the guys appreciate the effort and see what you do. As long as everyone is contributing, that's the name of the game.

But the Penguins are not getting ahead of themselves. They know that Eric Staal remains a dangerous player, one who can change a game if he is given a little time and space to generate some speed.

"You have to throw the word 'so far' in there," Eaton said when asked about the success the pens have had. "It's only three games and there is a lot of hockey to be played."

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