The Hurricanes aren't about to be daunted by anything when these Eastern Conference Finals begin, not by the Penguins, not one bit.
Not by Sidney Crosby, not by Evgeni Malkin. Why, many of these Hurricanes were winning a Stanley Cup when those Pittsburgh stars were still toddling along in NHL training skates.
This is not a Carolina team that feels lucky to be here, this is a team that thinks it can beat the Penguins and then go full bore for its second Cup in four years. Not thinks, exactly. Something stronger: Believes.
The Hurricanes are not that very sure of themselves simply because they're coming off of a Game 7 on enemy ice in which, for long chunks, they had their way. The final score may have been Carolina 3, Boston 2, (RECAP | BOX) but until the third period, it wasn't really that close. Not in the early going when Carolina came onto the ice like a fleet of locomotives. Not in that fat chunk, middle of the second period, where the play was all Hurricanes, cycling and pressing and taking a 2-1 lead and behaving as if they owned the place. They behaved that way at the start of overtime, too
Carolina hung on, didn't buckle after Boston, the best team in the Eastern Conference after all, tied it up in the third. Then Scott Walker buried the rebound that won the series. "We knew that eventually we would get one," said Eric Staal later.
Now goaltender Cam Ward is 4-0 in career Game 7s. Now Ward is six playoff series into his NHL career and he still hasn't lost a single one. Think HE believes he can get past Pittsburgh?
But there's more stoking Carolina. How's this for a confidence-builder: The Hurricanes just faced off against the second-most dangerous power play in the East -- a Bruins' group that converted at a rate of 28 percent over the regular season -- and shut it down 25 of 27 times.
The Hurricanes also got a lift from one of the men they need the most: captain Rod Brind'Amour, banished lately to the fourth line, was there right at the top of the crease, perfectly placed, just by TimThomas' stick, to tip in the first Carolina goal. That was Brind'Amour's first this postseason, and no, that's not a misprint. If the revered old center, sidelined for much of the overtime in Game 7, can add any offense, anything at all really, well, that will be something to feed off.
This is a team that knows just what it is getting against the Penguins and doesn't mind it. Here's what Ward has to show for his last two games against Pittsburgh this season: two wins, and 65 saves on 68 shots. He stopped Malkin on a penalty shot last month, turned away Crosby on breakaway. Over the last four seasons Carolina has beaten Pittsburgh 10 times in 16 games.
The Hurricanes don't mind being the underdogs here, aren't bothered by not having home-ice advantage. That's the way they've been playing all spring long.
The Eastern Conference finals? A battle against the formidable Penguins? Said Staal: "It's going to be fun."