Seeking penalty balance

Staff WriterMay 6, 2009 

— In addition to the cheers, noise and general mayhem the Carolina Hurricanes will no doubt hear tonight when they return to the RBC Center, they wouldn't mind hearing a few whistles -- on the Boston Bruins, naturally.

Two games into their second-round series against the Bruins, the Canes are a perfect 7-for-7 on the penalty kill. They would be happier about that if they had been awarded more than two power plays in the series -- one of which came late in Game 1, long after the Canes had already slit their own throats.

It's an unusual experience for the Hurricanes, who had a significant advantage in that department during the regular season and in the final five games of their first-round series against the New Jersey Devils.

"Typically, we're a team that is on the opposite end of that," Hurricanes forward Ray Whitney said. "I'll give them credit. They're a good team at playing defense in their own zone, and they don't have to take a lot of penalties. Structurally, they're pretty sound in their positioning."

The Canes were the least-penalized team in the NHL during the regular season, but they have found themselves on the wrong side of the power-play differential in the opening road games of both of their series.

In Games 1 and 2 at the Devils, the Canes were 0-for-5 on the power play, the Devils 1-for-10. That disparity is even larger against the Bruins.

Over the course of the first round, those numbers evened out, and the Canes actually had a 24-17 advantage over the Devils. They're hoping to see the same dynamic in play in the second round.

Given that the Canes are already feeling a little roughed over by the NHL after the seven-minute review of Chad LaRose's non-goal at the end of the second period of Game 2, it would be easy for them to point the finger at the officials.

That hasn't really been the issue. While some borderline calls have gone against the Hurricanes, this is really more about the Bruins, who have yet to give up a power-play goal in the playoffs and have been short-handed only 10 times in six games.

On the one hand, the Bruins don't take many bad penalties. Their defensive responsibility puts them on the right side of the puck more often than not, which eliminates all those "new NHL" hooking penalties trying to play catch-up.

And while the Canes have taken two silly penalties in this series -- Ray Whitney's frustration-provoked trip in Game 1, the first penalty of the series, and Tim Gleason's brain cramp when he flipped the puck over the boards despite acres of open ice in Game 2 -- the Bruins have yet to take a head-shaker. They're winning the discipline battle so far.

On the other hand, Boston is a big, rough, physical team, and what the Bruins can get away with in front of the net and along the end boards and in the corners is up to the discretion of the officials. That's the gray area the Canes are hoping to turn to their advantage at home.

"It depends on how the game's going, sometimes," Hurricanes forward Eric Staal said. "Those were pretty physical games in Boston. Maybe not huge, big hits, but some tough battles in the corner. Sometimes they call that pretty tight, and sometimes they let 'em go. We've just got to keep battling through it."

And whether by influencing the officials or the way the Canes play, the home crowd has had an impact. The Canes had a 15-9 advantage on the Devils at the RBC Center. In three home playoff games, the Canes have averaged 5.0 power plays per game. In six road playoff games, 2.7.

Even if the Canes are only converting 6.4 percent of their chances, they would still prefer to have the opportunity.

"We moved the puck around pretty good on the power play in practice today," Staal said. "Hopefully we can get a couple calls."

luke.decock@newsobserver.com, 919-829-8947 or blogs.newsobserver.com/decock

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