Monday, June 19, 2006
Updated: June 20, 5:08 PM ET
Hurricanes beyond prepared for Game 7 test
By Barry Melrose
Special to ESPN.com
RALEIGH, N.C. -- We saw a perfect example of what makes a champion in Monday's Game 7.
After playing in a stinker in Game 6 in Edmonton, the Hurricanes' coaching staff and players acknowledged that they played poorly. Coach Peter Laviolette made changes and came out with a game plan.
From the get-go, the plan was to play harder than Edmonton, attack and send more pucks to the net, initiate and not retaliate. (Another example of how Laviolette should have never been kicked out of the Islanders organization.)
It starts with the veterans in the locker room, particularly Rod Brind'Amour. Brind'Amour is the heart and soul of the team and could have won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Carolina's ability to rebound in 48 hours is a testament to Brind'Amour and those veterans.
It also doesn't hurt to have a young, gutsy goalie in Cam Ward, who really is unflappable (as Oilers coach Craig MacTavish described him). The 22-year-old Ward wasn't supposed to play; he was a backup. He got thrown into the starting role after Martin Gerber struggled. Even when he was pulled earlier in the playoffs, Ward didn't let it affect him, and he's now a Stanley Cup champion. He's the third-youngest goalie to win the Cup, after Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden. Not bad company to be in.
Having said all of that, I don't think Edmonton did anything wrong Monday night. But the NHL is now all about goaltending and special teams, and the latter bit the Oilers again in Game 7. When you can't convert on almost two minutes of a two-man advantage, it's hard to win hockey games. The Oilers didn't even have a solid chance during that second-period opportunity. Edmonton will look back at that as a turning point in Game 7 and the series. When the Oilers' special teams were clicking, they won, plain and simple.
So what does the future hold for Edmonton and Carolina?
I think both will be playoff teams next season, but it's very tough to repeat a Cup finals appearance. Both teams made good deals during the season and didn't have any major injuries until the playoffs. Now, we'll see what happens for both on the free-agent market. One thing's for sure, making it to the Cup finals will make more players want to head to Edmonton and Carolina.
|Barry Melrose says Canes goalie Cam Ward is one of the biggest stories of these playoffs.|
Barry Melrose, a former NHL defenseman and coach, is a hockey analyst for ESPN.