So the Penguins are in the beautiful city of Raleigh today, my home. Waking up this morning I could smell the sweet 72 degree North Carolina air. The sun is shinning, the sky is blue, and for now, the Caniacs are quiet, basking in anticipation for the showdown tonight. Emotions will run high.
The Pens are up 2-0 and this game is the proverbial "must win" for the Canes. Only two teams have ever come back to win from being down 3-0 in a playoff series (74-75 Islanders and 41-42 Mapleleafs). So despite the "Cardiac Canes" title, the odds would be against them.
Living in Raleigh has given me a chance to go and see a few games this year. The atmosphere is intense, I'll second that. But the two games I went to see the Pens play, the place was absolutely flooded with Penguin fans. I'd say the ratio was probably 5-1, and that's not an overstatement. Being tonight's game is not just a playoff game but the Eastern Conference Finals. I'm sure we will see the same ratio of Pens fans tonight.
The first time the Pens played in Raleigh this year on December 4th was Paul Maurice's first game back as the head coach of the Hurricanes. The Penguins won 5-2. The last time the Penguins visited on April 4th they lost 3-2 in OT and the Canes actually clinched their playoff birth with the win. Now the Penguins arrive at the RBC with momentum and emotion on their side. A win in Raleigh could nearly seal the deal, either today or Tuesday. But that doesn't mean the Pens are going to take this team lightly. While they are pleased to be up 2-0, Coach Bylsma and the guys are not planning on playing that means anything.
The Penguins have been here before, they have played in the oppositions house and won. Matter of fact the previous two series were won on the road. Now they look to extend this lead to 3-0 tonight and make it nearly impossible for the Canes to have any chance.
- Weathering the Storm: The pressure put on by the Canes can be their biggest foe at times due to the amount of energy expended in doing so. I felt the Penguins exploited that in game 2 by almost allowing the Canes to pressure them and then beating them through the neutral zone.
- Offensive Pressure: One of the most notable characteristics of game 2 was the pressure the Penguins actually put on Carolina. They kept the puck in their offensive zone and maintained solid puck possession, particularly on the power play. Sure Ward stopped 35 shots, but he let 6 of them in. I expect the Pens to do more of the same tonight.
- Crashing the Net: Good things happen when you get in front of the net, ask Sid and Geno. But when you can continue to get decent shots and have players rush the net you will inevitibly find a juicy rebound or two.
- Defense: As I said in the last pregame, taking care of the puck in your own zone is key. The Canes got two goals in game 2 due to shotty passes around our own net. The Canes aggressive forecheck will do that, but you need to get the puck out of your own zone, and early.
- Goaltending: MAF must be on point tonight. That first period of game 2 was something he'd like to forget. He performed much better as the game progressed, but ultimately it was the Pens offense that won the game for them. The pressure will come on him early, he needs to perform as he did in game 1.