Containing Crosby didn’t create win for Carolina
By Alan Robinson
PITTSBURGH ó No team in the Eastern Conference playoffs has found a Crosby stopper, a defensively skilled forward who is effective game after game in slowing Sidney Crosby.
Carolina center Matt Cullen showed flashes of being a shutdown defender against Crosby in Game 1, and the Hurricanes may need a near duplication of that performance if they’re to even the conference finals against Pittsburgh tonight.
The Cullen line was largely responsible for limiting Crosby to no goals, an assist and two shots during Pittsburgh’s 3-2 victory on Monday ó about as close as the Penguins’ captain has come to being blanketed. Crosby was coming off an eight-goal series against Washington and leads NHL playoff scorers with 22 points.
“I thought the Cullen line played pretty good,” coach Paul Maurice said, “and I thought he made a good adjustment in making sure those guys stayed off the score sheet.”
What the Hurricanes couldn’t prevent the Penguins from doing was winning. Since a team taking a 2-0 series lead goes on to win about 85 percent of the time, the Hurricanes can’t realistically expect to win the series if they go back to Raleigh without a split.
Beating Pittsburgh usually means controlling Crosby.
“I don’t think you can really rest on that fact,” Cullen said. “Obviously, he’s going to play well. For us, we know they have some unbelievable players on their side, especially up front. We just have to play our style of hockey.”
The Hurricanes’ ability to stay within their system was a factor in them winning their last five Game 2s, almost a necessity given they also lost Game 1 in all five series.
“We’ll have to find a way to get Game 2,” Cullen said.
Crosby knows exactly how they’ll try to do that, too. The Hurricanes never let up against the Crosby and Evgeni Malkin lines in Game 1, and Crosby is certain they will stay true to their system. Carolina wants to pressure the puck, stifle the Penguins’ offensive flow and keep the game in Pittsburgh’s zone.
“They don’t give you a whole lot,” Crosby said. “They have a great work ethic and depth, and they come at you every shift.”
While the Hurricanes always seem to be on their game in Game 2, Maurice hinted they shouldn’t go in thinking they will automatically win because they lost Game 1. Crosby, Malkin and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury are three reasons why.
“It’s not like we’ve played 15 games, lost them all, and come back and won the next one,” Maurice said. “That is a small sample we are talking about. I think that what we have done over our first two series is we’ve learned as we went. Just found smarter and better ways to play the game based on what we had learned in Game 1.”