Monday, June 10
Updated: June 10, 11:26 PM ET
Thank you, Carolina, it's been nice
By E.J. Hradek
ESPN The Magazine
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes have had a wonderful, beautiful, thrilling playoff run. A run that the fans in North Carolina will lovingly remember for many years. A run that cemented this long-suffering franchise in a place they call The Triangle.
But now, it's all over.
The Hurricanes, despite their glorious postseason run, have no chance -- repeat no chance -- of becoming the just the second team in Stanley Cup finals history to overcome a 3-1 deficit and win the Cup. Instead, they will be the 26th team in finals history to fall behind 3-1 and be sent home without it.
At this point, it's just a matter of how many more games it will take. And, it likely will take only one more.
The reason -- as we knew all along -- is quite simple: the Detroit Red Wings are better. They are better in a wide-open offensive game. And, more importantly, they are better in a tight, defensive game.
If the Red Wings didn't prove that with wins in Games 2 and 3, they certainly did with their 3-0 shutout victory in Game 4. The Wings allowed just 17 shots, none of them dangerous. In fact, the only good scoring chance -- Ron Francis hitting the post in the second period -- didn't count as a shot on goal.
Detroit's defensive masterpiece was so perfect, even demanding coach Scotty Bowman was impressed.
"That was probably our best defensive game in a long time," said Bowman, who now has more Cup finals wins (35) than anyone in the history of the game.
On this night, Detroit's defense suffocated Carolina to the breaking point. Completely frustrated by their inability to generate even the most innocent of scoring chances, the 'Canes started doing something they just can't afford to do -- take risks. And, when they did, they were done.
"We did offensive things or tried to create offense because it wasn't coming at all for us, and got out of position doing that," said Carolina coach Paul Maurice, who has done a brilliant job during this playoff season. "You just can't do that against Detroit."
No, you can't do that against Detroit, which can counterattack like few teams in league history. With more skilled snipers than some armies, the Wings can take advantage of even the most minor miscue.
In the first three rounds, Carolina was able to break each opponent with its stifling defensive system. The Devils, Canadiens and Maple Leafs all wilted under the defensive pressure of the Hurricanes' smart system.
In this series, though, the Hurricanes have met their defensive match. And, because of their experience and team speed and quickness, the Wings have been able to beat the 'Canes at their own game.
"Everybody is always talking about all the firepower they have on offense, but we found out earlier in the series that they are one of the better defensive teams in the league," said Carolina left wing Sami Kapanen, who has only one goal in 22 playoff games. "Their forwards come back to their defensive zone fairly quick and are strong on the backcheck.
"There's not a whole lot of time make a play in the neutral zone."
And, to make matters worse for the Hurricanes, the Wings are extremely adept at the hooking and holding away from the play which will bog down even the most talented offense (just ask the Colorado Avalanche).
"Their defensive game is outstanding because they skate so well into it," Maurice said. "And, because of that, we're not able to lose the picks and holds, which they execute far more effectively than we do."
In the next few days, both teams will say all the right things. They will talk about how the fourth win is the hardest to get. They will talk about taking it one shift at a time. But, that is just talk. In reality, this series is over. And, although neither team will say it, they both know it.