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Drop the gloves during the playoffs with SI.com's writers in the NHL Cup Blog, a daily journal of hockey commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
7:07 PM ET, 5/25/06

Time for change: 'Canes must adjust

Posted by Yi-Wyn Yen
On numerous occasions the Carolina Hurricanes have repeated the company line that they simply need to continue playing the same game they have been playing all season in order to win. Their aggressive forechecking system has worked for them and they're not about to change anything, but here are a few adjustments the 'Canes should consider if they hope to advance past the Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference finals. The Sabres lead the series 2-1 heading into Game 4.

Exploit, exploit, exploit The 'Canes need to take advantage of the wounded Buffalo defensemen. The Sabres are deep, but not that deep. With their third defenseman, Henrik Tallinder, out with a broken left arm, coach Lindy Ruff now faces a task more exasperating than trying to patch up a leaky dike with one finger. Ten days after Ruff replaced Dmitri Kalinin (broken ankle) with Rory Fitzpatrick during the Eastern Conference semis against Ottawa, Teppo Numminen went down with a strained groin in the series opener against Carolina. Ruff brought in Doug Janik for Numminen's backup in Game 2. That didn't work, so he replaced the struggling Janik with a No. 2 backup. Just when Ruff thought he solved the crisis with Jeff Jillson, a 25-year-old who played just two games in the regular season last November, Tallinder, his top defenseman who averaged 22:15, collided with Hurricanes winger Mark Recchi in the third period of Game 3 and will be sidelined for the remainder for the playoffs. Numminen says his chances of dressing for Game 4 are "50/60," but that's not enough assurance for Ruff, who is running out of options and is considering moving right wing Jason Pominville on defense. "Don't laugh," Ruff told a room full of snickering media. "He plays the point in the power play."

Win Game 4 This is a critical game for the Hurricanes. They do not want to leave Buffalo with a 3-1 deficit and force three straight wins. If the Sabres are tough to beat at the HSBC Arena, they will be equally difficult at RBC Center, where they took the series opener. A seven-game series gives Carolina home-ice advantage for Game 5 and 7, but Buffalo has the top playoff road record in the East (5-3).

Go back to Martin Gerber This isn't a knock on rookie goaltender Cam Ward, who has collected nine wins in 13 starts. But after allowing four goals in just over 13 minutes of Game 3, Ward was yanked in the second period and Gerber was brought in for a change of luck. The Hurricanes had been outskated in the second period and took eight penalities in the first 35 minutes, but began to settle in with Gerber in the net as he stopped the Sabres's remaining 11 shots. The Hurricanes came back strong in the third period to crawl back with two more goals and a momentum that can tip in their favor. Gerber has also done well against the Sabres, winning three of four matchups during the regular season, including twice at HSBC Arena. While coach Peter Laviolette refused comment about who he'll start in Game 4, it won't be a complete shock if he does try something new by going back to his old goalie. "[Ward] made some really big saves," Laviolette said. "I thought that he really competed in there. We were just going down a road and trying to change it up."


Posted: 12:04 AM   by Anonymous
Im a Sabres fan, and I'll admit my nervousness with our depleted D. But, I still have a lot of faith that the Sabres can pull it off. I know this topic is really refering to the Canes and I have respect for the Canes, but I still must say GO SABRES!!
Posted: 12:14 AM   by Anonymous
Canes must adjust? Exploit the depleted defense? Ummm....weren't they trying to exploit the defense before it was depleted? I guess they weren't trying to score when Buffalo was healthy. What adjustment are you talking about? They must win game four? This is an adjustment? Guess they weren't planning to win the next game until you pointed it out. Now that you've alerted them that there's actually a game four they should try to win, I'm sure they will. It will be a nice adjustment, since I'm sure they were planning to lose it until your blog appeared. Now, going with Gerber in net would be an actual adjustment, and more than likely a bad one. Why in the world would you start a controversy in goal now? Sorry Cam, you had a bad night, and although you helped carry us to this point, we're going to reinsert the goalie that helped to dig us a 2-0 hole against Montreal. That would obviously be the smart adjustment that will help us prevail in this series. Do you have any real insight to actual adjustments that should be made, or is this just all filler material?
Posted: 7:52 AM   by Anonymous
I actually agree with these changes. Ward has been solid, but not in the last few games, and when he was tested he didn't do so well at stopping goals. He is the reason the canes have gotten this far, but isn't playing the way he was against Montreal. It might be a gamble, but Gerber must replace Ward. Gerber has played well (like he did all through the regular season) when he replaced Ward in Game 4 against the Devils and Game 3 against the Sabres. He could change the momentum of the series.
Posted: 8:35 AM   by Anonymous
Wow, lighten up Francis! The bottom line is that this is a great series.
Posted: 10:29 AM   by Anonymous
I agree, I think that putting Gerber back in goal is a good idea. He was sick for the beginning of the Montreal series and Cam's done a great job, but Gerber has more experience and seemed quite ready to play in the last two periods of the game on Wednesday. Remember 2002, when Maurice switched back and forth between Irbe and Weekes, depending on who had the hot hands- go with Gerber.
Posted: 10:41 AM   by Anonymous
Yes an adjustment. Carolina is banged up as well and they do have "some" forwards that are a little long in the tooth. In a series that is becoming very physical it may not be the absolute worst case scenario for Buffalo to have some young fresh legs on the back end. If Carolina can't get out of Buffalo's barn with a win tonight, what answer do they have at home? Even now when Carolina is playing pick a goalie. If they are not satisfied with the netminder then they won't feel comfortable pinching their D and thus, "not exploiting" the Sabres D.
Laviolette has announced that Cam Ward will start game 4, which is the right move. Gerber was great in relief in game 3, but the deficit he inherited wasn't Ward's fault -- the penalty kill failed under so many consecutive penalties (all of which seemed deserved, the refs didn't botch any calls). The only real adjustment that the Canes need to make is keeping their aggressiveness within the rules in order to keep the Sabres off the PP. I think that the Canes are better than Buffalo at even strength, now that the Sabres' D is so depleted.
Posted: 12:31 PM   by Anonymous
With Buffalo having the last line change they can do a little "smoke and mirrors" with the matchups and squeak out a tight one at home and buy some time for the replacements to get their sea legs in the series.
Posted: 6:05 PM   by Anonymous
These have been very close games. At the end of 3 games there are only two possible scenarios:

3-0 or 2-1. Someone had to lose game 3.

Buffalo played hard and held on for the win in game 3, but it could have gone either way.

If the Hurricanes lose tonight - then we have something to talk about.

Go Canes!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted: 6:51 PM   by Anonymous
The sabres have won their last game.
I hate to see a team go down b/c of injuries, but I think that is what has happened.
Still I hope for a good game, but I think it will be 'Canes in 6.
Posted: 12:03 AM   by Anonymous
How about the idiot who said starting Gerber would be "a mistake"? You know nothing about hockey.
Posted: 6:52 PM   by Anonymous
back to the mistake of putting in gerber. this person knows nothing about hockey. gerber was 38-14 that wasn't a mistake. he knows how to play and buffalo is in big trouble. doesnt anybody remember gerber stopping 50 shots against canada in the olympics, you know the same one miller was suppose to be in. miller shouldnt be the only one who didnt make the team mentioned....i have 2 players that should of made the canada squad in jason spezza and eric staal miller isn't on their level.
Posted: 6:07 AM   by Anonymous
This is the "idiot" that said starting Gerber would be a mistake. True, he played well in game four, and deserves credit for that. Of course, he reverted back to recent form and was pulled in game 5. Carolina was very fortunate it didn't backfire on them in game four, and have Ward to thank for saving their season (again) in game 5. My point was that Gerber had played terrible down the stretch, and was pulled after 2 games of horrible play against Montreal. His great game four was more of an anomaly when you examine his play over his last 15 games or so. But whatever, what do I know about hockey, right?