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Tuesday, June 11
Updated: June 11, 2:41 PM ET
 
'Canes keep positive despite daunting task

By Wayne Drehs
ESPN.com

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The game was over, their team had lost and yet the Carolina Hurricanes fans let out one of their loudest roars of the night.

The message, whether the players wanted to admit it or not, was clear: Thanks for a great season.

In other words, it was a great run, but we, too, think you're done.

"I don't know," defenseman Aaron Ward said. "I'm going to think they were encouraging us to bring it back here for a Game 6."

Maybe. But it's doubtful. For as close as the Hurricanes have been for much of this series (they lost two one-goal games) the fact remains that the Red Wings are slowly, methodically and mercilessly squeezing their Carolina counterparts into submission.

Now, the little underdogs that could are on the verge of saying they can't.

"We realize the type of team that they have and there isn't a whole lot we can change that we haven't already done," defenseman Glen Wesley said. "The margin of error is just so small."

Though the 'Canes refuse to admit this series is over and will throw every cliché imaginable to get that point across, reading between the lines of the past 24 hours could cause one to think otherwise.

Consider:

  • Carolina, a team which had stuck to its guns and made few changes throughout the playoffs, broke up the vaunted BBC line of Bates Battaglia, Rod Brind'Amour and Erik Cole on Monday night, in hopes of generating some offensive punch. As Brind'Amour said, "Desperate times call for desperate measures." It did little to help as the team failed to score.

  • One of Carolina's trademarks this season has been its patience, its ability to stay within its defensive-minded system no matter what happens on the ice. In Game 4, that discipline began to crack, as the 'Canes grew frustrated over their offensive futility (they haven't scored in the last six periods) and had fundamental lapses on defense.

    "Opening it up is what got us to this point," Cole said of being down 3-1. "We weren't even close to as sharp on defense as we need to be. The two goals they scored in the third period came on complete mental breakdowns. We can't have that."

    On Tuesday, the body language wasn't promising. Though the words were right, with the Hurricanes swearing they aren't done, their actions hinted otherwise, as Cole, Battaglia and Wesley all slouched at the interview podium.

    And at one point, after being asked a question, Battaglia sat silent, completely zoned out. He asked the reporter to repeat the query. It's hardly the focus or determination a coach would be looking for entering a potential series-ending game.

    "It's not the best scenario that you can be in," Wesley said. "But that doesn't mean it can't be done. There's no reason we can't bring the series back here for a Game 6. We'll never say never."

    The 'Canes believe they need to take the rest of the series not one game at a time, but one period at a time. Win a period here, a period there, steal Game 5 in Detroit, bring the series back to North Carolina and anything can happen.

    But the bigger picture is daunting. Put simply, they must beat the talent-loaded Wings, a team that they are overmatched against, three straight times. Two of the games will be held at Joe Louis Arena, where before Game 1 of these finals, the Hartford/Carolina franchise hadn't won since 1989.

    The one thing in the 'Canes have going for them? The 1942 Maple Leafs, the only team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Stanley Cup finals. Coincidentally, it happened against the Red Wings. Hardly the Red Wings of Bowman, Yzerman, Fedorov and Hasek, though.

    Another source of optimism is the 2001 playoffs, in which the 'Canes looked dead and buried after losing the first three games of their opening round series against New Jersey, but then fought back to win Games 4 and 5. Eventually, they succumbed in Game 6, but the resiliency they showed in doing so is promising.

    As clichéd as it may sounds, the 'Canes are known as a team that plays its best hockey when its back is firmly pressed against a wall.

    "From a technical view, when there are no outside considerations, when everyone is narrowly focused, and it's clear cut what we have to do, we become a quicker team," head coach Paul Maurice said.

    On Tuesday, Carolina didn't practice, but held a team meeting, during which Maurice not only explained the various shortcomings of the night before, but also surveyed his team's mental state. He came away positive.

    "You can tell by where the eyes are," Maurice said. "If they are staring at the floor, you're in trouble. If they are intense and focused, you're going to be alright. With our guys, it was good. I have a tremendous faith in them and maybe I only see what I want to see, but being down 3-1, we're in as good of a mental state as you can be down 3-1."

    Which leaves the question -- is that state good enough?

    "Why not?" Ward said. "Nobody has an excuse. Nobody just wants to pack up and go home. And if they do, they shouldn't be here."

    Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com.



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