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January 22, 2019
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
Malkin had two more goals and an assist in Game Three, leading the Penguins to a decisive 6-2 win and a comfortable 3-0 series lead over a thoroughly beaten Carolina squad. Geno now has seven goals and 16 points in his last six games. Yeah, that’s pretty good.
It’s been a mismatch from the start. Sure, some people are going to try and say the series is closer than it looks, pointing out the games have all been tied or within a goal in the third period, but those people are idiots.
The Penguins can do whatever they want, whenever they want against the Canes. It’s almost too easy. It’s reminiscent of the Penguin clubs of the early 1990s. They flip a switch, and it’s over.
Game Three was another perfect example. The Canes got on the board first when Matt Cullen potted his third of the playoffs 4:06 into the contest, giving the raucous Carolina crowd a reason to believe.
Ah, yes, it was a glorious few minutes. Cherish them, Hurricanes fans. Keep them close to your heart. No one can ever take away those memories. You hear me? No one! Well, except for Malkin and Kid Crosby.
Bang. Bang. Bang. And it was 3-1 Pens before the intermission.
Pittsburgh cruised through the second but failed to build the lead. So when Sergei Samsonov scored early in the third, it should have made for some anxious moments. But not so much.
The Pens stepped on the accelerator and tilted the ice, forcing Cam Ward into several spectacular saves just to keep the game close. Malkin eventually made the difference, backing off the defense and dropping a pass between his legs to Ruslan Fedotenko, who piped a shot over Ward’s glove to restore the two-goal cushion. Game over.
Carolina is simply outclassed. Don’t get me wrong. They’re a swell bunch of guys who work hard and get the most out of their meager abilities, but they can’t compete with the likes of Malkin and Crosby. Take Sid and Geno off the roster, and this would be a hell of a series.
Pittsburgh’s 7-4 victory in Game Two told the tale. The Penguins were awful, displaying questionable defensive zone coverage and an inconsistent commitment to the forecheck. And Marc-Andre Fleury, the hero of Game One, was atrocious, allowing three softies. Yet the Penguins still won going away on the strength of a Malkin hat trick.
And that’s the difference in the series. The Penguins can make all the mistakes they want, because they know they’ve got Malkin and Kid Crosby. Either one can seize a game by the throat and create scoring chances at will.
The Hurricanes, on the other hand, have to bust their ass for every goal they get. Nothing comes easy for the Canes. They averaged 2.36 goals per game during the first two rounds. Wasting four in Game Two killed them.
Pittsburgh can piss away four goals, and it’s no big thing; they’ll score five more the next game. If the Hurricanes score four, they have to win, because it could be weeks before they crack two again.
Did you really think Chad f’n LaRose was going to keep clicking at a goal-a-game pace? Or that Dennis Seidenberg was going to knuckle home another prayer from the point? Patrick Eaves scores about once every three months. You have to make those count.
Carolina’s only hope was to have Ward stand on his head and steal at least three games. That idea is solid gone. Pittsburgh’s pumped 11 behind him the past two outings. Usually it takes five or six games to break a goalie. Nice of Ward to save them the trouble.
The best part is Ward and the Canes know they’re outclassed. There was a sequence in the second period when Crosby, Bill Guerin, and Chris Kunitz cycled the puck at will, skating circles around Cane defenders and creating at least three quality scoring chances. Ward eventually got a whistle and tossed the puck aside in disgust. He knew.
So did Joe Corvo. He was interviewed between the second and third periods, and it looked like a hostage situation. Buck up, Joe. You’re 60 minutes from summer vacation.
It isn’t all puppet shows and candy canes for the Penguins, though. They’ve been spotty at best. Game Three was their best effort of the series, but it still featured one major defensive breakdown on Cullen’s goal and some real shaky goaltending.
Fleury fought the puck all night. He was scrambling and swimming like a chimp. Nothing reassuring about any of his 32 saves. I think the Grant Fuhr comparisons are becoming more apt by the day. He makes big saves at key times. Just don’t ask him to do it every second of every game.
Last year, Fleury was rock solid throughout the first three rounds, playing real quiet and controlled. No soft goals at all. Then he got to Detroit and had some issues. Here’s hoping it’s the reverse this time around.
I suppose Carolina could somehow win Game Four and rally. I mean, nothing’s impossible.
But I’ll take my chances with Sid and Geno.