2009 Stanley Cup Playoff Storylines
Eastern Conference Final
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (6)
Playoff History: This is the first Stanley Cup Playoffs meeting between the franchises.
Brotherly Love? Brothers Eric and Jordan Staal will oppose each other for the first time in an NHL playoff series and could well spend a great deal of time on the ice together. Eric is Carolina’s top-line center and offensive star. Jordan is Pittsburgh’s checking center who regularly is assigned to shut down the top opposing pivot. In last year’s Conference Semifinals, Jordan and the Penguins eliminated a third Staal brother, Marc of the Rangers.
Ronnie Franchise: Hurricanes associate head coach Ron Francis is one of the most popular figures in the history of both franchises. Francis is the Hurricanes’ all-time leader in goals, assists and points and had his number 10 retired by the club in January, 2006. He also played eight seasons in Pittsburgh and was a key member of the Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup championship clubs in 1991 and 1992.
Change is Doubly Good: Both teams made midseason coaching changes pay off. Carolina replaced Peter Laviolette with Paul Maurice on Dec. 3 and the Hurricanes went 33-19-5 the rest of the regular season. Pittsburgh replaced Michel Therrien with Dan Bylsma on Feb. 15 and went 18-3-4 thereafter. In both cases, familiarity helped breed success. Maurice had previously coached the Hurricanes from 1995-2003, guiding them to the 2002 Stanley Cup Final. Bylsma had been an assistant coach for two seasons with Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate Wilkes Barre-Scranton before being elevated to that club’s head coach to begin this season. The last team to win the Stanley Cup after making a coaching change during the season was the 1999-2000 New Jersey Devils, who replaced Robbie Ftorek with Larry Robinson.
Forward Thinking: Each team was bolstered by trade deadline-beating deals for veteran forwards. Carolina brought back home-grown RW Erik Cole from Edmonton in a three-way deal on deadline day (March 4) and went 12-3-2 after his return. Cole scored 15 goals in 17 games after the trade and helped spark a late surge by Staal. Pittsburgh loaded up for the stretch run by dealing for LW Chris Kunitz and RW Bill Guerin in the week leading up to the deadline. Guerin has five goals and four assists and Kunitz has seven assists in the playoffs.
Precocious Goaltenders: As a 22-year-old in 2006, Cam Ward became the fourth rookie goaltender in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoffs MVP when he backstopped Carolina to the Stanley Cup. At age 23 last spring, Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant — 1.97 goals against average — in getting the Penguins all the way to Game 6 of the Final.
Better Late than Never: The Cardiac ‘Canes have made it impossible to turn away from their games until the final buzzer sounds. They snatched first-round series victory away from New Jersey with a stunning two goals in the final 1:20 of Game 7. And that was after Jokinen’s goal with 0.2 seconds left won Game 4. They then won twice in overtime in the Conference Semifinals by bouncing back after blowing third-period leads.
Special Somethings: Pittsburgh’s potent power play has clicked on 19.7% of its chances in the playoffs, with Crosby (five) and Malkin (four) leading the postseason in PPGs. But Carolina’s penalty killing has been tremendous, permitting only five goals in 54 times shorthanded – a 90.7 percent success rate. The battle figures to be less titanic when a Penguin is penalized. The Hurricanes have scored just five power-play goals on 48 playoff chances while Pittsburgh’s PK ranks a middling seventh among the 16 teams that made the postseason.
Season Series: The teams split their four regular-season meetings, with each winning once at home and once on the road. The Penguins prevailed in the first two meetings — 4-1 at Pittsburgh on Oct. 23 and 5-2 at Carolina on Dec. 4. The Hurricanes won, 2-1, at Pittsburgh on Jan. 20 and 3-2 in overtime at Carolina on Apr. 4. Centers Sidney Crosby (1-6–7) and Evgeni Malkin (2-3–5) led Pittsburgh’s offense during the four games. Carolina G Cam Ward did not play in either of the first two meetings and held the Penguins to a total of three goals in two victories in the last two meetings.
Conference Semifinals Recap: Pittsburgh emerged from a star-studded, seven-game Conference Semifinal series with Washington by drubbing the Capitals, 6-2, in Game 7. The Penguins rallied after losing the first two games to win three straight. Crosby (8-5–13) and Caps LW Alex Ovechkin (8-6–14) more than lived up to the hype that surrounded their first postseason meeting. G Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove save on an Ovechkin breakaway early in Game 7 enabled the Pens to burst out to a 4-0 lead. Malkin (2-8–10) came on strong after a slow start in the series, scoring the OT winner in Game 5. D Kris Letang scored three goals in the series, including one in overtime to end Game 5.
Carolina survived its second straight seven-game series, eliminating Boston in the Conference Semifinals on RW Scott Walker’s goal 18:46 into overtime. It was Walker’s first goal in 25 career playoff games. G Cam Ward improved to 4-0 in career Game 7s and finished the series with a 2.32 goals against average and .915 save percentage. C Eric Staal and LW Sergei Samsonov led the Hurricanes with four goals apiece. LW Jussi Jokinen kept up his late-game heroics from the first-round, scoring two game-winning goals, one in overtime.
First-Round Recap: The Penguins eliminated the Philadelphia Flyers in the Conference Quarter-Finals, vanquishing their intra-state rival for the second consecutive playoff year. The series was capped by a 5-3 victory in Game 6 at Philadelphia, a match the Penguins had trailed, 3-0. Malkin, the NHL’s scoring champion in the regular season, also led all players in the first round with 4-5–9. Crosby was one of three players tied for second with eight points (4-4–8).
The Hurricanes eliminated the New Jersey Devils in the Conference Quarter-Finals, scoring twice in the final 1:20 of Game 7 to make one of the most stunning turnarounds in playoff history. Staal scored the series-winning goal with just 32 ticks of the clock remaining and led the club in scoring with 5-2–7, but Jokinen also will be remembered for his heroics. Jokinen scored the go-ahead goal with 0.2 seconds remaining in Game 4 — the latest game-winner in playoff regulation time ever — and tallied the game-tying goal with 1:20 to play in Game 7.
NHL Playoff Appearance: 23rd (third consecutive)
Stanley Cups: 2 (1991, 1992)
All-Time Playoff Series Record: 25-21
All-Time Playoff Game Record: 132-114
Nov. 16: Acquired D Philippe Boucher from Dallas for D Darryl Sydor.
Jan. 17: Acquired G Mathieu Garon from Edmonton for G Dany Sabourin, C Ryan Stone and a 4th-round pick in the 2011 Entry Draft.
Feb. 26: Acquired LW Chris Kunitz and LW Eric Tangradi from Anaheim for D Ryan Whitney.
Mar. 4: Acquired RW Bill Guerin from NY Islanders for a conditional pick in the 2009 Entry Draft.
Mar. 4: Claimed RW Craig Adams on waivers from Chicago.
The Penguins qualified for the playoffs for the third straight season. Having appeared in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final, Pittsburgh attempts to become the first repeat finalist since New Jersey won the Stanley Cup in 2000 and lost in the 2001 Final to Colorado. The Pens went 18-3-4 after Dan Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien as head coach on Feb. 15, surging from 10th place in the Eastern Conference.
C Sidney Crosby began the season in milestone, hat trick fashion and ended it soaring. He scored his 100th NHL goal, recorded his 200th assist and his 300th point all in the same game, Oct. 18 vs. Toronto. The Pens’ 21-year-old captain also recorded a point in 16 consecutive games in which he played — nine goals, 18 assists — from Feb. 16 through Apr. 1. With two goals at Tampa Bay on Apr. 7, Crosby eclipsed the 30-goal and 100-point marks for the third time in four NHL seasons.
C Evgeni Malkin followed up his brilliant 2007-08 season with another Hart Trophy-contending year. His 113 points and 78 assists, both career-highs, led the NHL, making him the eighth player to win the Art Ross Trophy in the last eight seasons. Lethal on the power play (14 goals), Malkin was the League’s most productive even-strength player, amassing an NHL-high 70 even-strength points. He recorded his 300th career point in his 240th NHL game on Apr. 7 vs. Tampa Bay, tied a career-high with a five-point (2-3–5) game Mar. 17 vs. Atlanta and had four other four-point games.
Trades for LW Chris Kunitz and RW Bill Guerin in the week leading up to the Mar. 4 trade deadline bolstered the Penguins’ depth up front. Kunitz, acquired from Anaheim Feb. 26, scored seven goals with 11 assists in 20 games as a Penguin. Guerin, acquired from the NY Islanders Mar. 4, had 12 points in 17 games after the trade.
D Sergei Gonchar, who had missed the first four months recovering from shoulder surgery, made his 2008-09 debut Feb. 14, immediately energizing the Pittsburgh power play. Clicking at just a 16.2 percent success rate without him, the Pens’ PP scored on 19.3 percent of its chances (22 for 114) upon his return. Of Gonchar’s 19 points, 13 came on the power play. Jumping right back into the role of the team’s No. 1 defenseman, Gonchar led the Pens in average ice time (25:11).
When G Marc-Andre Fleury’s game soared, so did the Pens’ position in the standings. The 24-year-old who backstopped Pittsburgh to the 2008 Final went 9-1-2 with a 1.87 goals against average and .938 save percentage in March. He started 19 straight games from Feb. 3 through Mar. 10, going 12-4-3. With 111 career victories, Fleury trails only Tom Barrasso (226) on the franchise’s goaltending wins list.
Oct. 4: The Penguins opened defense of their Eastern Conference championship with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Ottawa Senators at a sold-out Globe Arena in Stockholm. Penguins forward Tyler Kennedy scored with 25 seconds remaining in the extra period to win the first regular-season game ever played in Sweden. Kennedy also had opened the scoring at the 0:40 mark of the first period.
Nov. 11: Facing the Detroit Red Wings for the first time since the 2008 Stanley Cup Final — and former teammate Marian Hossa for the first time in a Red Wings uniform — the Penguins posted a wild 7-6 comeback victory at Joe Louis Arena. Jordan Staal scored a hat trick in the third period and set up the overtime winner by Ruslan Fedotenko as the Penguins overcame deficits of 3-1, 5-2 and 6-4.
Feb. 4: The Penguins trailed the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-0 entering the third period but turned the tables on their visitors with a rally that culminated with Evgeni Malkin’s game-winning goal with 15.5 seconds remaining in overtime. “You always look back at seasons, and turning points, and hopefully this is one for us,” captain Sidney Crosby said.
Feb. 21: Sidney Crosby scored his second goal of the game to break a tie with 2:15 left in regulation as Pittsburgh defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4, ending the Penguins’ five-game winless drought on the road. It marked the second consecutive game in which the Penguins had surrendered a two-goal lead in the third period but rebounded to win.
Apr. 7: The Penguins clinched a playoff berth for the third consecutive season with a 6-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Captain Sidney Crosby scored a pair of goals 1:04 apart in the second period to join teammate Evgeni Malkin as 100-point scorers — the first time two Pittsburgh players have reached the century mark in the same season since Mario Lemieux (161) and Jaromir Jagr (149) in 1995-96.
NHL Playoff Appearance: 13th (first since 2006)
Stanley Cups: 1 (2006)
All-Time Playoff Series Record: 10-11
All-Time Playoff Game Record: 59-64
Feb. 7: Acquired LW Jussi Jokinen from Tampa Bay for LW Wade Brookbank, D Josef Melichar and Carolina’s 4th-round pick in the 2009 Entry Draft.
Mar. 4: Acquired LW Erik Cole from Edmonton for C Patrick O’Sullivan and Carolina’s 2nd-round pick in the 2009 Entry Draft.
With a furious stretch drive, the Hurricanes qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2005-06 and the fifth time in the 11 seasons since the franchise relocated from Hartford. Feast or famine has been Carolina’s recent postseason story — it went to the 2002 Final, missed the playoffs the next two seasons, won the 2006 Stanley Cup and missed the playoffs the next two seasons. The Hurricanes went 13-1-2 in a 16-game stretch from Mar. 3 to Apr. 7 to soar into the Eastern Conference’s top eight.
Paul Maurice replaced the man who had replaced him, Peter Laviolette, when he took over as Carolina head coach for the second time on Dec. 3. Maurice led Carolina to its first playoff success — a run to the 2002 Final. Laviolette took over for Maurice on Dec. 15. 2003 and coached the Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup. Carolina went 33-19-5 under Maurice this season.
C Eric Staal added to his reputation as one of the League’s premier power forwards by scoring 40 goals, the fourth straight season the fifth-year player has eclipsed 30 goals. Staal broke a franchise record by recording his fourth hat trick of the season Apr. 7 vs. the NY Islanders. He was a force down the stretch, scoring 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists) in the Hurricanes’ final 20 games. Carolina went 22-3-2 in games in which he scored a goal and eight of his goals were game-winners. Staal has missed just one game (Mar. 19, 2004) to injury his entire career — including playoffs, he has played in 368 consecutive games.
Having made an emotional return to the Hurricanes’ lineup for Game 6 of the 2006 Final after missing 3½ months with a broken neck, LW Erik Cole returned to the Carolina franchise Mar. 4 via a three-way trade after spending the season’s first six months with Edmonton. He scored 15 points (two goals, 13 assists) in 17 games upon rejoining Carolina. The ‘Canes went 12-3-2 after his return.
Consistently productive LW Ray Whitney produced one of the best of his 16 NHL seasons by reaching the 20-goal mark for the eighth time and eclipsing 70 points for the third time. Another ‘Cane who finished strong, he recorded 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) over the final 18 games. On Mar. 6 vs. Calgary, Whitney scored his 300th career goal to complete his third NHL hat trick. On Mar. 25 vs. Ottawa, he recorded his 500th career assist.
G Cam Ward’s brilliance was as big a reason as any for Carolina’s late-season success. Ward started 28 consecutive games from Feb. 7 to Apr. 9, going 19-7-2 record, 2.30 goals-against average, .922 save percentage and three shutouts in that span. He set a franchise record by posting nine consecutive victories from Mar. 18 to Apr. 7. His victory over the New York Islanders on Apr. 7 was his 39th win and seventh shutout of the season, breaking and tying the respective franchise In March, he went 10-1-2 with a 1.98 goals against average and .938 save percentage to be named NHL ‘First Star’ of the Month.
Oct. 11: One night after overcoming a two-goal deficit in defeating the Florida Panthers in their season opener, the Hurricanes came from even further off the pace to win their second game. Trailing 3-0 late in the second period at Tampa Bay, Carolina launched a comeback that culminated in Eric Staal’s game-tying goal in the third period and game-winner with 23.6 seconds remaining in overtime.
Oct. 25: The Hurricanes escaped from Long Island with a 4-3 overtime victory over Long Island despite being outside 60-28. Carolina goaltender Cam Ward stopped 57 shots — the most by a goaltender in the NHL this season — in withstanding a barrage that set an Islanders franchise record for most shots in a regular-season game.
Mar. 3: In a game that many will remember for Washington’s Alexander Semin scoring a goal from his knees, it was the Hurricanes who got the win, scoring in a variety of ways in a 5-2 victory over the Capitals. Carolina tallied on a penalty shot, shorthanded, on the power play and at even strength. The win launched Carolina on one of the best extended runs by any club this season; they earned a point in 14 of 15 games from Mar. 3 through Apr. 4 (12-1-2).
Apr. 4: Defenseman Anton Babchuk scored at 1:11 of overtime — his third game-winner in an eight-game span — to give the Hurricanes a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins and their first Stanley Cup Playoff berth since 2006.
Apr. 7: The Hurricanes tied a franchise record with their ninth consecutive victory and extended their team-record home winning streak to 12 with a 9-0 win over the New York Islanders. Carolina goaltender Cam Ward posted a team-record 39th victory of the season and center Eric Staal set a team mark with his fourth hat trick of the campaign. The 57-12 shots advantage also was the widest in team history.