Score one for the Carolina ‘D.’
Now that it looks like we’re going to see the close series everyone predicted when the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes drew each other in the first round, it will be interesting to see how two similar teams match up in key areas going forward.
Both clubs rely on a no-name, under-appreciated defense corps. The Canes’ ‘D’ crew came through when Tim Gleason fired home the overtime winner in Game 2 to give his team the all-important road split.
New Jersey and Carolina can both really bring it up front, which obviously places a burden on the respective back ends. The Devils’ blueliners were by no means lost, but did appear out of sorts at times versus the Carolina forecheck. New Jersey’s defensemen, collectively, are better than their names would have you believe, but if the Canes really crank it up at home, Devils goalie Martin Brodeur is going to be a busy boy.
Special teams is also an area to watch in light of Jamie Langenbrunner leaving mid-way through Game 2 with a lower-body injury. Power play goals are always such a boon in the post-season and Langenbrunner is an integral part of the Devils’ man-advantage unit, hammering low, hard shots from the point. If he’s gone and Carolina can gain the upper hand in the special teams department, look out.
A final intriguing point of comparison comes way down on the third line, where John Madden and Rod Brind’Amour toil. It’s been a tough year for the Canes captain, but if Brind’Amour can spark a little offense when Carolina’s top two lines are resting, it will go a long way in deciding those inevitable nail-bitters. While Madden doesn’t possess the same offensive acumen Brind’Amour usually does, he is playing with Brendan Shanahan and it’s crucial that line chips in a goal here or there to relieve some of the pressure on the top-six forwards.
Speaking of top-line talent, Bill Guerin and Evgeni Malkin were the most productive forwards in Pittsburgh’s Game 2 extra-time win over Philadelphia, but Chris Kunitz was absolutely one of the most potent Pens overall.
Kunitz had a handful of good licks, including a first-period jarring of Simon Gagne at a time when the Pens were running roughshod over their Penn (not) pals.
Pittsburgh has to feel good about the chances its stars – Malkin and Sidney Crosby – can outshine Philly’s two premier players, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. If Kunitz can spark another victory among each team’s support players, it starts to undermine the one advantage Philly seemed to have entering the series – depth.
Carter in particular needs to raise his game if the Flyers are to bite into this 0-2 series deficit. Say what you will about a game ending on a 5-on-3 power play, but overtime isn’t even a consideration if Carter sweeps that tap-in past Marc-Andre Fleury in the third. To be sure, Fleury displayed incredible athleticism in firing out his right foot to deny Carter from close in, but if we’re going to talk about the need to bury chances in the post-season, I don’t know how we let a 46-goal scorer off the hook when he basically can’t find a way to get the puck into an open net.
As much as I resolve not to complain about referees actually calling penalties in overtime, I do feel for Claude Giroux. We’ve all seen composite sticks explode on simple passing plays as frequently as attempted bombs from the point. The lesson, obviously, is force doesn’t always dictate stick failures. With that in mind, who’s to say Giroux’s stick check didn’t just happen to strike a soft spot on the shaft, thus creating a two-man Pens advantage based on bad luck, not bad intentions?
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Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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