Hurricanes' warning

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:06 AM ET

RALEIGH -- The Carolina Hurricanes thoroughly have enjoyed their season of fun and frolic.

But the post-season puts a much greater priority on hard work than on fun, and tonight, the Hurricanes' intention is to make some serious adjustments, to get away from regular-season mode and shift into playoff mode.

But can they do it?

One player said that after their final regular-season game, when they lost 4-0 to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday and blew a chance to win the Eastern Conference title, there was serious dressing-room discussion of the need for an attitude change.

It was all talk, no action. The Hurricanes kept trying to play a fancy, crowd-pleasing game on Saturday and as a result, got whacked 6-1 in their series opener against the Montreal Canadiens.

So now, even though players don't like to speak for attribution when it comes to revealing game plans, they quietly are promising a different focus in Game 2 tonight.

Their premise isn't radical. But it's an approach that the powerful Hurricanes haven't used -- and haven't needed to use -- very often this season.

They are planning to play an ugly game.

If there's a choice between a scintillating pass with a 75% chance of completion, and a dump into the corner, they will opt for the latter.

If there's a choice between trying to advance by beating an opponent one on one, or by slapping it off the boards, you're going to hear the sound of puck on wood.

In fact, if you taped Game 1 on Saturday night and you want to see a perfect example of what the Hurricanes intend to do tonight, play back the third period.

In your mind, you will have to reverse the sweaters. But in that third period, the Canadiens played exactly the kind of game that the Hurricanes hope to play tonight.

Montreal's primary concern on every play was to get the puck into the Carolina end. Nothing else. If an offensive chance eventually evolved, fine. But that was secondary.

As one Carolina player said after the Saturday debacle, "We've got to play good defence first, then take whatever we can offensively. You totally eliminate their chances if the puck is in their end."

Most fans think of the Hurricanes as a team that thrived on scoring off the rush. Those goals are the ones that fans remember because they are pretty, and those are the ones that are shown on the highlight packages.

But the Hurricanes see themselves as a team that lives off its cycling, off chances that are created behind the net.

On Saturday, however, they kept turning the puck over in the neutral zone because they were trying to make fancy plays and they simply did not spend enough time in the Montreal end for their cycling to work.

Granted, they had 43 shots on Montreal goaltender Cristobal Huet. So they did spend a fair amount of time down there. But they could have spent a lot more if they hadn't coughed up the puck in the neutral zone so often.

There wasn't a lack of effort. The Hurricanes worked hard. But they didn't work smart. A lot of those shots on Huet were from well out, and you're not likely to beat him from there. His weakness is covering rebounds, and the Hurricanes weren't getting a lot of those.

And the way Hurricanes goaltender Martin Gerber was playing at the other end, Carolina couldn't afford even the 21 shots that Montreal mustered. "Every turnover meant a rush into our end," one Carolina player said, "and that usually meant a shot on goal and a scoring chance."

In the 1980s, the Edmonton Oilers won four Stanley Cups in five years. On the year they missed, they did so, their coaches say, because they insisted on trying to play a pretty game rather than a defence-first game.

It's a history lesson the Hurricanes need to learn quickly.


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