Somewhere between defeating the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and opening their conference finals series with Pittsburgh, the Carolina Hurricanes obviously bumped their collective head and reverted to the team that was out of the playoffs at midseason from the world-beater bunch that battled its way past New Jersey and the Bruins.
The ‘Canes’ Game 3 loss last night, which dropped them to down 0-3 in the series, was a clinic in how not to play defense (and how most expected the Carolina back line to perform). Witness Tim Gleason lightly tapping the puck, instead of clearing it, to allow Evgeni Malkin to score a breakaway goal. Then there’s Joni Pitkanen coasting instead of skating as Sidney Crosby goes to the net to cash in on a timing play with Bill Guerin, and Malkin skating off the right wall and going to the net while five Hurricanes players watch instead of react during a 6-2 defeat.
Malkin and Crosby are extraordinary talents, and they’re maybe playing their best hockey of the whole season right now. But you’d like to think that had the Bruins reached this round, they would’ve at least put a body on these guys. They at least would have put up some form of resistance. After the game, the ‘Canes sounded like they knew the things they had to do better. But let’s face it, it’s too late. Only two teams in NHL history have rallied from 0-3 down, and there’s no reason to believe the third will be the ’09 Hurricanes.
The Penguins are now on the verge of sweeping a conference finals series for the first time since 1992 (the Bruins were the opponent) and playing for the Stanley Cup for the second straight year. There are a number of reasons why Pittsburgh looks better this year than last, but right now it’s really difficult to judge. Before making a declaration like that, you’d want to see the Pens skate against an opponent that’s trying. Maybe being back on the verge of elimination will rally the ‘Canes.