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Pittsburgh vs. Carolina Series Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins


THE FUNDAMENTALS
Pittsburgh Penguins (45-28-9-99) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (45-30-7-97)

Monday, May 18 at Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m. VERSUS, TSN, RDS
Thursday, May 21 at Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m. VERSUS, TSN, RDS
Saturday, May 23 at Carolina, 7:30 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
Tuesday, May 26 at Carolina, 7:30 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
* Friday, May 29 at Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
* Sunday, May 31 at Carolina, 7:30 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
* Tuesday, June 2 at Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
*If necessary

Radio:
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9 (All games)
TV:
Versus and RDS will air all seven games of the series. TSN will broadcast Games 1 and 2, while CBC will air Games 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.
FSN Pittsburgh will broadcast a post-game show following all games featuring Dan Potash with interviews from the locker room. The post-game show will air following any broadcasts of Pittsburgh Pirates baseball.

Season Series:
Pittsburgh 2-1-1; Carolina 2-2-0
In Pittsburgh:
Pittsburgh 1-1-0; Carolina 1-1-0
In Carolina:
Pittsburgh 1-0-1; Carolina 1-1-0

Game-by-Game Results:

Oct. 23 at Pittsburgh: Penguins 4, Hurricanes 1
Dec. 4 at Carolina: Penguins 5, Hurricanes 2
Jan. 20 at Pittsburgh: Hurricanes 2, Penguins 1
April 4 at Carolina: Hurricanes 3, Penguins 2 OT
 
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES HURRICANES PROJECTED LINES
Forwards
Kunitz-Crosby-Guerin
Fedotenko-Malkin-Talbot
Cooke-Staal-Kennedy
Dupuis-Adams-Satan
(Sykora, Godard)

Defense
Gonchar-Orpik
Letang-Eaton
Gill-Scuderi
(Boucher, Goligoski)

Netminder
Fleury
Forwards
Whitney-Staal-Walker
Cole-Cullen-Ruutu
Samsonov-Jokinen-Eaves
Bayda-Brind'Amour-LaRose
(Conboy, Helminen, Ryan)

Defense
Kaberle-Gleason
Seidenberg-Wallin
Pitkanen-Corvo
(Babchuk)

Netminder
Ward
 
TALE OF THE TAPE

Pittsburgh   Washington
45-28-9 Record 45-30-7
99
Points 97
25-13-3
Home
26-14-1
20-15-6 Road
19-16-6
264 Goals For
236
239 Goals Against
221
17.2% (20) Power Play (rank)
18.7% (18)
82.7% (8) Penalty Kill (rank)
80.4% (19)
Malkin, 113* Scoring Leader
77, Whitney
Malkin, 35 Goal Leader
40, Staal
Malkin, 78* Assist Leader
53, Whitney
Fleury, 35 Wins Leader 39, Ward
Crosby, 21# Playoff Leader 13, Staal

* Led NHL
# Leads NHL
 
LOWDOWN ON THE HURRICANES
General manager Jim Rutherford was not happy when the Hurricanes became the first team in NHL history to miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons after winning the Stanley Cup. Carolina finished just two-points shy of a postseason berth last year with injuries to captain Rod Brind’Amour (knee), Justin Williams (knee), Matt Cullen (concussion) and Ray Whitney (ankle). The group missed a combined 67 games but the Hurricanes still finished with a 43-33-6 record for 92 points. They were leading in the Southeast Division towards the end of the season but couldn’t hold off a surging Washington Capitals team. Rutherford was determined to make changes if things didn’t improve. Carolina started the year with a 12-11-2 record, losing four of those last five games and Rutherford decided it was time to shake things up.

The Hurricanes made a drastic overhaul to the coaching staff. Peter Laviolette, who coached the team to a Stanley Cup championship two years prior, was relieved of his duties. Paul Maurice, who coached the team from 1995-2003, was named as Laviolette’s successor. Former Penguin and Hall of Famer Ron Francis was added as an associate coach. The rest of the Hurricanes’ coaching staff remained in place. Following the change, Carolina responded with a 33-19-5 mark. The Hurricanes finished the season with a 13-3-2 record in their last 18 games, including a nine-game winning streak.
 
POSTSEASON RECAP
Carolina opened the playoffs with the New Jersey Devils in the first round. The Hurricanes fell behind in the series, 3-2, but forced a Game 7 in New Jersey. The Hurricanes trailed 3-2 in the game with two minutes left in regulation and their season was in critical condition. But Jussi Jokinen tied the game with 1:20 to go and then Eric Staal buried a shot with 32 seconds left to turn what appeared to be a 3-2 loss into a miraculous 4-3 victory.

The Hurricanes collided with the No. 1 seeded Boston Bruins in the semifinals. After dropping the first game, Carolina ran off three straight wins to take a 3-1 series lead. The Bruins fought back to force a Game 7 in Boston. The contest was tied at 2-2 after 60 minutes and entered sudden death overtime. Then Scott Walker batted in a rebound to eliminate the Bruins and advance Carolina into the conference finals.
 
FORWARDS
Eric Staal, who will eventually become the face of the franchise if he isn’t already, has proven to be a lethal goal scorer - amassing 45, 30 and 38 goals in the last three seasons. Staal finished with a team-best 40 goals this year to go with his 75 points - second most on the team. He currently leads the team with nine goals and 13 postseason points.

He’s centering the Canes’ top line with veteran Ray Whitney and Scott Walker. Whitney led the team with 77 points (24G-53A) during the regular season. Walker was elevated to the top unit and responded by burying the Game 7 overtime winning tally against Boston to push the Hurricanes into the Eastern Conference Finals.

Matt Cullen worked the second line with Erik Cole and Tuomo Ruutu. Cullen has battled through injuries all year to post 43 points (22G-21A) in 69 games. Cole had 15 points (2G-13A) in 17 games after returning to Carolina. Ruutu was third on the team in scoring with 54 points on 26 goals and 28 assists.

The third line consists of Jossi Jokinen, Sergei Samsonov and Patrick Eaves. Captain and local icon Brind’Amour, who played in his 1,400th career game this year, is an incredible two-way center and may be the best in the league in the faceoff circle. His production is down this year with only 51 points (16G-35A) and minus rating of -23. But the 38-year-old had 20 points (8G-12A) in his last 17 games and ranked fourth on the team in points.
 
DEFENSEMEN
The Hurricanes’ defense was overhauled from last season. Longtime blue line standout Glen Wesley retired and Brett Hedican left in free agency. Rutherford traded Erik Cole (and later re-acquired him) to Edmonton for Joni Pitkanen. He is a big presence at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and has a lot of offensive abilities.

Rutherford re-signed Joe Corvo after he scored 21 points in 23 games with Carolina after the team traded for him last season. The move has paid off as Corvo topped the defensive corps with 38 points. Tim Gleason has been a physical force for Carolina’s defense. Frantisek Kaberle is a crafty veteran and with over 600 games of experience. The remaining minutes are divided between Niclas Wallin and free agent addition Anton Babchuk.
 
GOALTENDING
Ward looks like he is back in his Conn Smythe form of the Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup Championship three seasons prior. At 25 years old, he is still relatively young and has improved each season. He set a career high with 39 wins and six shutouts. He also set personal bests in goals-against average, 2.44, and save percentage, .916. His 39 victories this year were the third most in the NHL.

With backup John Grahame’s departure, the team inked 27-year-old Michael Leighton to a two-year deal. Leighton was the AHL Goalie of the Year last season after going 28-25-4 with a 2.10 goal-against average and a .931 save percentage with the Albany River Rats. In 19 games he’s posted a 6-7-2 mark, 2.92 GAA and .901 save percentage.
 
POINT OF INTEREST
The two teams still standing in the Eastern Conference have traveled very similar paths into their berth in the NHL’s final four.

Both teams 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.

Not to mention the many connections between the two clubs. The obvious connection is the brotherhood of Eric and Jordan Staal. Former Penguin (and Whaler/Hurricane) Ron Francis is an associate coach with Carolina while former Penguins Cup winning netminder Tom Barrasso is Carolina's goaltending coach.

Tuomo Ruutu is the younger brother of former popular Penguin Jarkko Ruutu while Patrick Eaves is the son of former Penguins assistant coach Mike Eaves.

And what's more, Penguins forward Craig Adams and head athletic trainer Chris Stewart both won the Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006.
 

Author: Sam Kasan


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