It's happened before. Twice, in fact.
To which the Carolina Hurricanes are asking, why not a third time, why not have a piece of hockey history?
To be sure, the Hurricanes aren't fooling themselves. Carolina has lost three straight playoff games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals and has been outscored 16-8. They now must win Game 4 tonight and three more after it to keep their season alive.
But there is life, Canes captain Rod Brind'Amour said Monday. And the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders proved a team can trail 0-3 in a Stanley Cup playoff series and still win it.
“That's the idea,” Brind'Amour said. “You can look at it as a negative or you can look at it as this can be one of the greatest comebacks ever done.
“That's the way you've got to approach it and keep yourself upbeat about it.”
In the Hurricanes' 2006 run to the Stanley Cup, Carolina lost the first two games of the playoffs to the Montreal Canadiens, both at the RBC Center. The Canes responded with four consecutive wins.
Albeit, back then it was the first round and not the conference finals. It was an 0-2 deficit, not 0-3. And the Habs had no one to compare to the Pens' Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, nor could they match Pittsburgh's depth, quickness and explosiveness.
But the Canes did win four straight playoff games, never an easy task. They still have several of the players — Brind'Amour, Eric Staal, Ray Whitney, Cam Ward and others — who made it happen.
“It can be done, we all know that,” Brind'Amour said. “Every game is its own game. You've got to win one, then move on and see what happens.
“As I told our guys, this is a great opportunity for us, to stand up and make a stand. It's a situation where we have not played our best hockey, and you can't win if you don't do that, so let's just do that — let's play our best game and see what happens.”
If there's anyone who has a feel for the fight and grittiness of the Canes, it is Penguins forward Craig Adams. In 2006, he was a member of the Hurricanes, a fourth-line banger and energy guy who helped Carolina win those four against the Canadiens and then the Cup.
“I know those guys well, and I know there's no quit in them,” Adams said. “We're preparing for a very tough, desperate team.
“There's a fine line between winning and losing. I know the scores in the last two games haven't been that flattering for them, but I don't think they've been indicative of how close the games were, especially in the third period.”
In Game 2, the score was tied 4-4 in the third before Malkin broke it open with a pair of goals and the Pens won 7-4. In Game 3 on Saturday, the Pens led 3-2 with less than nine minutes to play before winning 6-2.
“They're a quick team,” Adams said. “Obviously, that's part of their identity and why they've gotten as far as they have, and we're a good skating club, too. There's a lot of speed out on the ice and both teams are trying to push the pace and use it to their advantage, and it's coming down to little things — execution, bounces one way or the other.”
In terms of speed and execution, it has been advantage, Penguins. The Canes have not been able to keep pace, for the most part, with the Pens.
“When you look at our team, you say, ‘Man, they transition quick,' ” Canes coach Paul Maurice said. “It's the same with Pittsburgh. They've got three or four guys that can just fly, as we do, but their strength right now is their quickness as a group.”
The Hurricanes can't win by matching rushes or scoring chances with the Pens. They grabbed a 3-2 lead after a frenetic first period in Game 2 doing that, but it may have played into the Penguins' hands in the end.
To get back into the series, the Canes need their stars — Staal, Whitney, Ward — to play like stars. They need more active, bruising play in the defensive zone, especially against Malkin and Crosby. They need a better forecheck and much better backchecking from their forwards.
“Good defense leads to good offense,” Canes winger Chad LaRose said. “The defense, for us, starts on our forecheck, getting in there and creating opportunities so they don't have the puck all the time. We just need to be better as a whole defensively.”
Can the Hurricanes pull it off, win four in a row?
“I hope people are counting us out,” LaRose said. “People counted us out in the first round, and we're here.”
As Ward put it, “We're only done when we think we're done. When people have counted us out, we've been able to rise to the occasion.”