Carolina Hurricanes 2-3 Pittsburgh Penguins: ECF Rematch, Part One
The last time the Penguins made their way to the RBC Center was on May 26, a day where they swept the Cardiac Canes out of the playoffs to capture their second straight Prince of Wales Trophy.
But that was then. The Hurricanes and Eric Staal are looking for some redemption after an embarrassing four game set with the Penguins. Eric had to sit in a corner while his younger brother Jordan enjoyed the Stanley Cup. If that doesn't light a fire under you, not much will.
Aside from the usual brother versus brother storyline, the two goaltenders needed to make a mark in hopes of making the Canadian Olympic roster.
The unbeaten Marc-Andre Fleury up against former Conn Smythe winner Cam Ward.
From the drop of the puck, the Canes buzzed around in the Penguins zone with a purpose, but had nothing going. A huge helmet-jarring hit on Kris Letang by Tuomo Ruutu brought the Carolina faithful to their feet, but the euphoria was short lived.
The Hurricanes, pressing up too far, allowed fourth line winger Mike Rupp to break in alone and break out a disgusting move, going forehand to backhand. "Those aren't the hands of a fourth liner, those are the hands of a 50-goal scorer!" exclaimed FSN color man Bob Errey.
The Hurricanes worst nightmare, Evgeni Malkin, struck four minutes into the second period, stunning Ward top shelf from an acute angle. The black and red might have signed up a few new defensemen, but they still don't want to defend against No. 71.
Two third period deflections from Ray Whitney evened up the contest, and the two squads headed to extra time once again. And the Penguins needed a shootout to preserve a perfect road trip, no problem there. Crosby and Kunitz snatched the extra point from the lion's mouth.
Fleury: 8.5. It's hard to say that a 6-0-0 record doesn't do a man justice. But he made every necessary save and was especially strong in the shootout, stopping four consecutive Hurricane shooters. His confidence is sky-high and so is his play.
Eaton: 6. A somewhat quiet night for the noted shot-blocker. Had a few moments of uncertainty, but he is better off not needing to constantly jump forwards.
Goligoski: 6.5. Delivered crisp and accurate passes nearly every time he had possession of the puck. Still has room for considerable improvement keeping the puck in the zone on powerplays.
Gonchar: 6.5. Made a few intelligent defensive plays and logged a game-high five minutes on the man advantage.
Letang: 6.5. Great skating. Kept his head on after getting eradicated by Ruutu.
McKee: 5.5. Saw a game low in ice time and only had a chance to be effective in the time that he was killing penalties. Tried to replicate Rob Scuderi's save in Game Six, but didn't find nearly as much success as "The Piece."
Orpik: 7. Seems to always excel against the Canes, who have held a hatred for him ever since he demolished Erik Cole. Blocked a handful of shots and heard the boos after hits.
Adams: 6.5. The Penguins garbage man continues to do all the jobs nobody else wants to do. Always brings grit and heart to the ice.
Bourque: 5.5. Didn't see a ton of time, as he was filling in for enforcer Eric Godard. Showed a few moments of promise on the forecheck alongside Crosby or Malkin but was unable to create any offensive chances.
Cooke: 6. Stuck to his game of forechecking and hitting.
Crosby: 8.5. Watch out. Captain Crosby has another trick up his sleeves. He's now managed to add a one-timer from the side to his arsenal, a shot that he has worked on with master Sergei Gonchar. Had the Hurricane defense going in circles a few times and scored a beautiful goal in the shootout to keep it going.
Dupuis: 5. Picked up an assist on a give-and-go that lead to Malkin's goal, but that's about all he contributed.
Fedotenko: 5. Another mediocre performance where he has showed poor finishing. Continues to forecheck well but his only goal of the year came off a poor defensive play on Long Island.
Guerin: 6.5. Had a couple good looks at net, but none greater than his chance on the doorstep in the third period. All he needed to do was poke it into the half empty cage but Ward pulled off an incredible glove save to rob him.
Kennedy: 6.5. Forechecked well once again and fired his fair share of shots at Ward. But the Hurricanes netminder obviously saw what he did against Ottawa and was ready for his shot from the circle.
Kunitz: 7.5. Introduced himself to a few Hurricanes quite nicely, but made his biggest impact in the shootout, scoring the game-winner in the 6th round. He hasn't scored in regulation so far, but a shootout winner is nice too.
Malkin: 8.5. Paul Maurice had all summer to think about how to defend the Conn Smythe winner. But he and the Hurricanes still haven't got a clue. He set up Rupp on a breakaway and then blasted his third goal of the season in the second period. Came within a millimeter of ending the game in overtime as Ward barely got a piece of his snapshot.
Rupp: 7.5. He might not see a ton of ice time, but he sure knows how to use it. He has looked more comfortable in every additional game under Disco Dan's system. Scored his first goal in a Penguin uniform in spectacular fashion, leaving Ward in utter shock.
Staal: 6.5. Made his biggest contribution in the hitting department. But it would be nice to see him get an opportunity on the shootout.
The Penguins completed their best opening road trip in franchise history, going a perfect 5-0-0 away from Mellon Arena. Now, they get to enjoy the home cooking for the next five games, starting on Saturday when they host Ryan Malone and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Penguins will also wear their powder blue jerseys, to the dismay of many fans. As nearly everyone is aware, the retro look saw the Penguins play to a mark of 3-7 last season.
But at this point, it won't matter what jerseys Crosby, Malkin, or Fleury are wearing.
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