The two teams still standing in the Eastern Conference have traveled very similar paths into their berth in the NHL’s final four.
Just consider, the Carolina Hurricanes struggled during the regular season, were in danger of not making the playoffs, replaced their head coach, incorporated an up-tempo, aggressive style, went on a late-season surge to earn a postseason berth and won a critical Game 7 on the road to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Sound familiar?
“You’re going to see fast hockey,” captain Sidney Crosby
predicted. “Both teams really play similar styles. I’ve watched them play. Their D is in the play, they’re quick up front, they attack, they don’t sit back. I think that’s similar to the way we like to play as well.”
“They have a pressuring game, a speed game, their D is good at moving the puck and activating out of the D zone,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Their strength and depth at the forward position allows them to play that way.”
With two teams playing such an aggressive, end-to-end approach, the consensus seems to be that this will be a wide-open series. The Penguins plan to counter Carolina’s strength by utilizing a strategy that has proven successful for Pittsburgh during the postseason – namely keeping the Hurricanes pinned in its own zone.
That’s our game - getting to the offensive zone with speed. When we’re playing our best we are keepin teams in their defensive zone and holding onto the puck, dictating the game by playing in their zone. That’s the way we need to play to have success. - Dan Bylsma
“In order to counteract a team that is aggressive and wants to play a speed game and has some skill up front," Bylsma said, "the longer you can force them to play in the defensive zone the slower it makes their game and harder for their D to get involved and be up the ice. That’s our game - getting to the offensive zone with speed. When we’re playing our best we are keepin teams in their defensive zone and holding onto the puck, dictating the game by playing in their zone. That’s the way we need to play to have success. That’s the way we want to play. We don’t want a game that goes up and down the ice at electric speed. We can play that way, we have the personnel to play that way. We want to play that offensive zone game and when we’re not there we want to attack, get the puck and return there as quickly as we can.”
“For a player, you want to dictate your style,” Crosby said. “If you do that then they shouldn’t be able to do what they want to do, whatever way they play. If you dictate playing your game, for us is speed and getting to their net, they shouldn’t be able to come back. It shouldn’t be up-and-down. Really that’s the strength of their team and that’s what they’re going to try to do. But for us, we want to be going back the other way.”
Carolina finished with a 13-3-2 record in its final 18 games of the regular season, including a 3-2 overtime win against Pittsburgh. The team rode that momentum into the postseason, winning two seven-game series to advance to Eastern Conference Finals.
“I’m not really surprised by how well they’ve played,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
said. “At the end of the season they played really well. When we played them it was a tight game. You could tell they’re a good team. They come together pretty well. They’ve won two series in Game 7 it shows they’re a good team.”
The Penguins know all about dramatic turnarounds and momentum. The team went 18-3-4 in its final 25 games and climbed from the 10th spot in the East to hosting the conference finals. So, Pittsburgh is aware of how a late-year surge can catapult a team to playoff success.
“(Carolina) came on towards the end of the season,” Crosby said. “It’s a funny thing when you get on a roll like that. Guys get confident. We’re pretty much in the same situation, two pretty similar teams.”
And the clash of their similar styles should create an exciting series. Still, the Penguins are confident that they’ll be successful if they limit the up-and-down action and stick to their game plan.
“You don’t want to get caught up thinking it’s going to be odd-man rushes back and forth,” Crosby said. “We want to work hard. We want to work smart. That’s going to be resolved by the two teams and the way they play but you’ll see fast hockey.”