Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 05/19/09 at 01:13 AM ET
For the third time in a row, and the fifth of the last seven, Carolina has lost game one of a playoff series. In every other series, Carolina has come back to win the series. More important than losing the game is that they may have also lost Tuomo Ruutu and Erik Cole to knee injuries.
Miro Satan, who wasn’t even in the lineup when the playoffs began, got things started for the Pens at 9:17. He stepped out of the penalty box, where he had been sitting for being found guilty of holding, accepted a pass from Matt Cooke, and was off to the races. He came in alone and ended up lifting a backhander past Cam Ward. Hal Gill picked up the secondary assist. Those kinds of goals are always a little more painful, and it was certainly a tone-setter.
Not even a minute and a half later, it was 2-0 Pens. On the Penguins very next shot, even. Evgeni Malkin fired a backhander from the right circle into the net. Phillipe Boucher had the only assist on the even strength goal.
In the first period, Marc-Andre Fleury had to be heroic, and he’s the only reason that it wasn’t 2-2 at the first break. He made a very nice save on Tuomo Ruutu from close range, then absolutely robbed Chad LaRose a little later.
Before the period was over, Carolina would be reduced to eleven forwards. Mark Eaton, in an attempt to clear out the low slot, skated into Tuomo Ruutu, knocking Ruutu’s legs out from under him, causing him to fall awkwardly. The word from the room was “lower body injury”, and my best guess is that he twisted his knee falling down. It didn’t look too bad, and he was able to leave the ice under his own power, so hopefully he’ll be alright. That was only one of two scares on the night, though.
The second period was a little better for the Canes. Chad LaRose, who was easily Carolina’s best player, made it 2-1 at 13:04 of the middle frame. His shot from the bottom of the right circle went behind Fleury, and the lead was cut in half. Erik Cole and Matt Cullen assisted on Sharpie‘s third goal of the playoffs. LaRose almost had another goal just a few moments later, but it was wiped off. Erik Cole drove a Penguins skater into M-A Fleury, and he was adjudged to be guilty of interference.
Just as Fleury had done in the first, Cam Ward had to make some great saves in the second to keep it close, including one extraordinary one on Bill Guerin. The second period ended 2-1, and it looked like the Hurricanes had started to match the Pens’ intensity.
Mellon Arena hasn’t been a pleasant place for Hurricanes players. Erik Cole suffered a broken neck there in March of 2006, forcing him to miss the last 22 games of the regular season and the first 23 of the playoffs. Trevor Letowski suffered a concussion there in October of 2006, causing him to miss about ten games. Scott Walker suffered a mystery injury there in October of 2007, forcing him to miss 17 games. That “mystery injury”, which wasn’t brought on by any contact with a Penguins player, turned out to be a torn chest muscle or something like that. This January, Scott Walker suffered a concussion (a play on which Matt Cooke was penalized and suspended two games) and missed 25 games. Tonight, we can add to that list.
About ten minutes into the third, Erik Cole was skating through the slot and was run into by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke. It most surely wasn’t Cooke’s intent to injure Cole, but he did lead with his left knee, crashing into Cole’s left knee. No penalty was called on the play, but play was halted as Cole lay in a heap in front of Fleury’s net. Cole slowly skated his way to the bench, but he never returned to the ice. As of this moment, there’s no word about the extent of his injury, but it’s obvious that it’s his knee.
In the Pittsburgh/Washington series, there was a lot of talk about Ovechkin leading with his knee on two separate occasions. His knee-to-knee hit knocked Sergei Gonchar out of games five and six. Lots of Pens fans were complaining about those kneeing incidents. Now one of their own has led with his knee, taking out one of Carolina’s top forwards. It may have been unintentional, but it is what it is.
Matt Cullen was sitting in the penalty box for delay of game when, at the 11:33 mark of the third, Philippe Boucher notched the game-winner. His shot from the top of the right circle hit Cam Ward, then trickled through the five hole. Boucher wasn’t sure that he was even going to play, but he ended up getting his first playoff goal in over two years and it proved to be the game winner. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin got the assists on the power play goal.
Brooks Orpik committed an elbowing penalty at 17:26 of the third, giving the Canes a chance to get back in it. Almost immediately, they pulled Cam Ward, creating a six-on-four power play. Joe Corvo fired a shot from the blue line that beat Fleury through traffic, and at 18:34, Carolina was down by just one. Ray Whitney and Rod Brind’Amour assisted.
Fleury had to fight off a crazy bounce on a 180-foot shot by Joni Pitkänen, then he had to make a flurry of saves in the final minute. Chief among them was a desperate save on Eric Staal with about 30 seconds remaining.
Both goaltenders were great, and I expect that they will be for the duration of the series. Game two won’t be until Thursday night. I’ve been moaning about the layover between games one and two, but right now those two days are looking good. Hopefully Ruutu and Cole will be able to go in game two. Otherwise, Carolina will have to dip into the reserves.
Carolina will have to play tougher in game two, and they’ll really have to establish more of a forecheck. And since they have two players out with apparent knee injuries, they’ll have to stay healthy doing all that.
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About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.