First it was Crosby, then it was LaRose. Then it was Malkin. Then it was Jokinen. Then Pittsburgh blinked, and it was Seidenberg. And that was just the 1st period. Yes, it was going to be one of those nights. Both teams were playing fast and loose, with loose being the operative word. Neither Marc-Andre Fleury nor his counterpart at the other end, Cam Ward, was getting much help from the defense. Traffic jams kept clogging up the view in front of the net only to end in sudden explosions that set loose breaks to the opposite end like it was the Autobahn.
The 2nd period settled in. Defense on both sides got back to the plan, and the flow was less frenetic though the hits kept coming. It was nice to see Max Talbot reap a reward for all his diligent toiling in the traces as he picked up the Pens’ game-tying goal at 3:11 by showing, yet again, the strength of the Penguins early in periods. It wasn’t until :08 were left in the period before Chris Kunitz broke his long 19-game drought with the go-ahead goal.
In the 3rd, Patrick Eaves did his version of early-period scoring, pulling the ‘Canes even at four goals apiece. The Hurricanes were feeling pretty good about their prospects at this point, but they failed to take into account one small thing.
Evgeni Malkin was not finished.
Scoring two more goals on the night to notch the Penguins’ second hat trick of the playoffs, the Russian Nightmare lit up the Igloo sending a shiver down the spines of the ‘Canes and their fans. Malkin scores, he sets up goals, he shreds defenders from one end of the ice to the other like a pinball wizard, and the boy can not only hit but take hits, though his preference is to artfully dodge them, leaving his opponent at odd angles in the air or in a heap.
This is a proud opponent though, and the ‘Canes continued to battle and do what has brought them to this point. However, late in the 3rd period, with Cam Ward pulled and a 6th attacker on the ice, miscues sprung the Penguins’ Staal unit. A weak clear of the puck in the Hurricanes’ vulnerable defensive zone caught the very end of Jordan Staal’s stick as he managed to get it toward teammate Tyler Kennedy for the empty-netter, sealing the deal at 18:11.
So Much to Like–Take Your Pick
- Any one of Malkin’s goals which heightened in spectacular-ness with each notch.
- A blistering 42 shots (by period: 12/16/14) on net versus 28 (by period: 14/6/8).
- Even hits (again) at 29 apiece, but bone-crunching, brain-rattling and memorable on both sides.
- Kunitz finally getting that goal.
- Satan picking up a 5-minute FIGHTING major as he came to the aid of Kris Letang who suffered a head-hunting elbow by Ryan Bayda as Letang touched up for an icing call.
- 4th line effectiveness and multi-faceted impact versus the ‘Canes 4th line that saw little ice time.
- The Staal line accounting for 6 points (Cooke-3 assists, Kennedy-1 goal & 1 assist, Staal-1 assist).
Despite some sloppy play at times that will continue to be addressed and shored up by the vigilant Dan Bylsma and company, the Pens played a better 2nd period, weathered a couple of storms of the Hurricanes’ own, and came out on top in a way that is eerily reminiscent of that Game 7 against the Caps. It showed on the ‘Canes faces as the minutes waned.
Brothers’ Keeper: The Staal Tracker
- Goals/Assists/Points: Jordan (0/1/1), Eric (0/1/1)
- Plus/Minus: Jordan (+1), Eric (-2)–Jordan is gaining confidence. Eric shows frustration.
- Total Minutes: Jordan (18:43), Eric (23:30)–’Canes coach, Paul Maurice was turning over the top units rapidly with the 4th unit seeing limited time.
- Shifts & Average Shift Time: Jordan (25 at :44), Eric (29 at :48)
- Shots on Goal: Jordan (2), Eric (3)
- Hits: Jordan (1), Eric (0)
- Giveaways: Jordan (1), Eric (0)
- Takeaways: Jordan (1), Eric (1)
- Blocked Shots: Jordan (0), Eric (1)
- Faceoffs Won: Jordan (9), Eric (8)
- Faceoffs Lost: Jordan (6), Eric (15)
- Faceoff Percentage: Jordan (60%), Eric (35%)–Complete flip-flop from Game 1 and more in Jordan’s usual range.
With Malkin awakened and on a tear for which the Hurricanes seem to have no answer as of yet, this series could get a out of hand quickly. Still, Game 3 back at Carolina’s stomping ground with the home team down 0-2, recalls the Philly series in a mirror situation. A stung team coming home to an expectant and passionate crowd makes for the height of desperation. The chippiness of Game 2 will carry over though it may take a more measured and controlled form.
Will Eric Staal catch fire? Will Cam Ward right his ship? Will Malkin increase to an F5? Will Penguins from all lines and the defensive corps continue to contribute in waves of oceanic proportions only seen on the angry Bering Sea? Saturday at 7:30 will unfold to reveal some of those answers.