Penguins Advance to Stanley Cup Finals, Touch Prince of Wales Trophy
It's kind of an unwritten rule in hockey that when your team wins the conference championship, you're not supposed to touch the trophy (in the case of the Eastern Conference, the Prince of Wales Trophy) because, in theory, that's not the piece of hardware you strive for. You're not supposed to show it the same respect you would show the Stanley Cup, so, by tradition, few teams ever actually acknowledge its existence, let alone touch it.
Following Pittsburgh's 4-1 win on Tuesday, which gave the Penguins a clean four-game sweep over Carolina in the Eastern Conference final, captain Sidney Crosby not only touched it, he actually carried it off the ice. His reasoning?
"We didn't touch it last year," said Crosby in a postgame interview on VERSUS. "And things didn't go the way we wanted, so we thought we'd switch it up this year."
Touche. With the win, Pittsburgh becomes the first team to win the Eastern Conference title in back-to-back years since the New Jersey Devils did so in 1999-00 and 2000-01.
Entering Tuesday's game, Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward had never lost a playoff series in his four year NHL career, which, by extension, means he was previously unbeaten when his team was facing potential elimination games. That all changed on Tuesday, while the dagger had to be the eventual game-winner scored by Max Talbot in the closing minutes of the first period.
Ward is a fantastic young goalie, and his playoff run was tremendous, but that's a goal you can't give up in the preseason, let alone an elimination game in the Conference Final. Despite his overall numbers in the series, Ward was probably Carolina's best player against Pittsburgh, but that goal essentially ended the Hurricanes' season.
So, where did it all go wrong for the Hurricanes?
1) Their top forwards were nonexistent during the four-game series. Eric Staal, Erik Cole and Ray Whitney combined for just one goal and six assists in the series, while Cole has not scored a goal in 31 consecutive playoff games dating all the way back to 2001.
2) Their defense was overwhelmed by the Penguins' forwards. While Carolina's top players were shut down, Pittsburgh's top players were dominant, as Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Bill Guerin combined for 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists). The Penguins scored 20 goals and averaged over 35.5 shots per game, while topping the 40-shot mark in games 2 and 3.
3) Cam Ward couldn't steal a game. Again, Ward was probably Carolina's best player in the series, and had it not been for him, the Penguins might have scored 25 goals instead of the 20 they were limited to. In the end, however, he just couldn't withstand the barrage of shots Pittsburgh put on him.
4) One power play goal. Entering the series, the Hurricanes had the No. 14 ranked power play in the playoffs, and when all was said and done they converted on just one of their 12 opportunities in the conference final.
Carolina was 7-0 this postseason when Staal tallied a goal, so when he notched his first of the series just 1:36 into the first period, jamming a wrap-around shot behind Marc-Andre Fleury, the Hurricanes had to be feeling pretty good. The lead wouldn't last long, as Ruslan Fedotenko re-directed a Philippe Boucher slap shot into a gaping net to tie the score just seven minutes later, which set the stage for Talbot's floater later in the period. Guerin added his seventh of the postseason midway through the second period, while Craig Adams finished it off with an empty-netter.
It's quite a story for the Penguins to return to the Stanley Cup finals, as they were, at one point, the No. 10 team in the Eastern Conference and as many as seven points out of a playoff spot.