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."