-- It got to the point where it didn't really matter which Carolina center was on the ice trying to stop Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin
in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Eric Staal was out there for Malkin's first goal in the opening period; Rod Brind'Amour was on the ice for his tie-breaking goal at 8:50 of the third period, and Matt Cullen was victimized later in the period when Malkin made the play of the night -- winning a faceoff and capping a tremendous individual effort with a no-look backhander that caught the top short side.
Unfortunately for Carolina goaltender Cam Ward, he was on the ice for all of them -- plus three others in Pittsburgh's 7-4 win on Thursday night.
Ward, who was unavailable for comment after the game, yielded six goals for the first time in his playoff career -- Pittsburgh's seventh was into an empty net. He entered the contest with a 2.19 goals-against average and .922 save percentage, but the Pens fired 42 shots on him and had an extra gear in the third period, breaking away from a 4-4 tie after Patrick Eaves pulled the Hurricanes even early in the period.
Carolina defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, who appeared to have Malkin well covered on his spectacular backhander at 12:25 of the third period, was at a loss for words in a somber Carolina locker room.
"(Malkin) is a great player and great players eventually break out," Seidenberg said. "Today was his day. It's all what we give him. If we give him the time and space, he's able to create that stuff. I knew he was going to shoot backhand, but what I didn't know was that he was going top shelf. I mean, I tried to block it with my foot but couldn't get it and Cam (Ward) couldn't either."
During his post-game news conference, Carolina coach Paul Maurice stressed the importance of not leaving his players one-on-one against Malkin or Sidney Crosby
, who scored the game's first goal and added an assist. Despite the fact the 'Canes battled hard and led 3-2 after the first period, they were unable to control either one -- and that has to change if they are going to get back into the series with a win on Saturday.
"I mean, (Malkin) fought for his space; he never gave up and he was even covered a few times but just kept battling for the puck," Seidenberg said. "It was a good effort by him but he gets what we give him. We need to fight a little harder and play tighter on those guys to make sure they don't get those opportunities."
Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason, who finished at minus-3, felt the Penguins were able to feed off their fans even when it seemed the Hurricanes were gaining some momentum.
"I think when Malkin scored his second goal to give them the lead in the third they grabbed that momentum and the building helped their team sustain it," Gleason said. "It's a loud building and they really ran with it. Now, we're going home and we have to win those games."
The Penguins expect Ward to be on the top of his game when the series shifts to Raleigh for Game 3 on Saturday night
"We needed 40-plus shots and had some good opportunities and we still feel (Ward) is playing well and made some big saves in this game," forward Bill Guerin said. "The way I see it, they're really a hard team to play against. They just keep playing and coming at you. They will take it to another level in their building. Ward is a good NHL goalie who's won a lot and we'll have to be ready for his best effort. I expect his best game to be his next."
Crosby, who finished plus-3, also knows the Penguins will have to work even harder to beat Ward on Saturday.
"We know he's a great goalie," Crosby said. "Everything that makes us successful doesn't depend on the goalie we play. We can't change because of that and there's going to be rebounds and you have to execute it. That's what it comes down to."
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer