- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2002

RALEIGH, N.C. The odds against the Carolina Hurricanes winning the Stanley Cup were pretty long to start with, numbers that would make Sarava's prerace Belmont figures look pretty appealing.
The odds against the Hurricanes are even longer now before Game 4 in the best-of-7 series tonight in Raleigh. Carolina trails Detroit 2-1 after losing Game 3 3-2, 54 minutes, 47 seconds into overtime, in the third longest Cup finals game in history.
It wasn't that Carolina lost the game, which began Saturday and ended early yesterday morning; it was that the Hurricanes gave everything they had for almost 115 minutes of playing time and came away empty. The Red Wings gave their all, too, but they won and now need just two more wins to sew up their third Stanley Cup title in the last half-dozen years.
What it boils down to is this: Carolina is playing as well as it can, and that is not good enough. The Hurricanes are averaging about 1.5 goals for every 60 minutes of play, while their power play is down to 5.3 percent, about one-quarter of where it needs to be.
Carolina got to the finals with defense, a stifling, trapping operation that has successfully cut down opponents that were supposed to beat the 'Canes easily. And it is working against Detroit, too the Wings are averaging about two goals every 60 minutes, and their power play has been reduced to 10.5 percent, feeble by normal standards.
In short, Carolina's inability to score, which has plagued it all season, is proving to be its Achilles' heel. Goalie Arturs Irbe has faced 22 more shots than Detroit's Dominik Hasek but has allowed only two more goals, both power-play scores.
"We went up two on New Jersey. They came back and tied," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said yesterday. "The obituaries were written for our club, but the room never really changes other than a little anger and grumpiness, I think, maybe on my part in the morning."
Saturday night or rather early yesterday morning was the third time in the playoffs Carolina has surrendered a late goal to send a game into overtime. Brett Hull scored on a magnificent deflection with 1:14 left, and Igor Larionov, at 41 the oldest active player in the sport and the oldest to score a goal in the finals, won it 14:47 into the third overtime when he lifted a shot over Irbe after waiting for the goalie to commit.
Teams that win exceptionally long games seem to draw long-term energy that gives them lasting power. Teams that lose those games and faithful Washington fans can remember two four-overtime defeats tell themselves it was only one game, but that attempt at mindbending usually wears off rather quickly.
"The guys have been told numerous times during the season [and] through the playoffs that the world is close to ending," said Hurricanes captain Ron Francis, who won two championships with Pittsburgh, so he knows what it takes. "But they have been extremely resilient. They have a lot of character."
The series has been remarkably close. Each game has been tied in the third period, and two of the three have gone to overtime, with each team winning one. One bounce, obviously, is huge.
"As much as we would have loved to win that game, there's nothing we can do about it," the always-levelheaded Francis said. "There is something we can do about [tonights] game. That's where our focus and attention has to be."
To get back into the series, Carolina has to get its power play untracked. It has scored just once in 19 tries (Detroit is just 2-for-19), and there are times when it appears to lack confidence in itself on the ice. The Wings, on the other hand, execute their plans with great patience, avoiding bad opportunities if a good one is not present.
"We are probably a little hesitant being that we've had some [shots] blocked at the point," Maurice said of his power play, which has been bottled up by Detroit's ability to block shooting lanes. "We haven't had much success. I think it's a combination of three things good goaltending, good defense and good lane-blocking, especially."
Detroit, meanwhile, has been attacking with gusto but has been prevented from running up bigger scores by Irbe, who has played much better than anyone thought he could. But if his teammates don't give him some offensive support, he could be a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate as playoff MVP from a losing team.


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