DeCock

Playoff loss needs to be avenged

Staff WriterOctober 14, 2009 

— When it comes to motivating his teammates, Rod Brind'Amour is not interested in using revenge as a lever.

As far as the Carolina Hurricanes' captain is concerned, tonight's game is one of 82, even if the Pittsburgh Penguins are in town, the defending Stanley Cup champions and vanquishers of the Hurricanes in a four-game sweep last spring in the Eastern Conference finals.

"For us, it's a game, but we still have 79 of them," Brind'Amour said. "One game's an important game, and we know they're a good team, but last year's last year. We don't make a big deal about it."

The numbers would indicate Brind'Amour might want to give the desire for retribution a little more credit. At least as far as the Hurricanes are concerned, history leans heavily toward the conquered in the next meeting with the conqueror.

Since the team moved to North Carolina, the Hurricanes are 2-1-0 in their first meeting with a team that eliminated them the season before -- most notably opening the 1999-2000 season with a win at the Boston Bruins and using a Jan Hlavac hat trick to beat the Detroit Red Wings in November 2002.

(Yes, Jan Hlavac, bane to spellcheckers and trivia-question responders everywhere. "Big Janny," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice mused. "Where is he now?" Sweden, it turns out.)

That's a pretty small sample, testament to Carolina's success when the Hurricanes make the playoffs. So is the larger sample of what happens when the Hurricanes are on the receiving end.

The nine teams the Hurricanes have eliminated during their four playoff appearances are 6-1-1 against Carolina in their subsequent meetings, with the Boston Bruins exacting their pound of flesh in the second game of the season and the New Jersey Devils taking their shot Saturday.

Of course, those wins and losses don't change a thing. What's done is done, who won still won and the Buffalo Sabres would change that season-opening win in the fall of 2006 for one more win in the spring of 2006.

"At the end of the day, they still beat you," Maurice said. "You can say whatever you want, and I'm sure Pittsburgh has all the confidence in the world, but if we beat them (tonight) they're not going to feel extra down. They still have a lot of hardware from last year and they'll feel pretty good about themselves.

"It's just a regular-season game, and the team that won last year is going to feel better about it."

Maybe from a coach's perspective. From a player's perspective, there may be a little more to it.

Aaron Ward is in a neutral position, eliminated by the Hurricanes last season when he was playing for the Bruins and missing out on their 2006 title defense after he signed with the New York Rangers as a free agent.

He may not be particularly fired up to play the Penguins, any more than normal anyway, but he knows what it's like to be on both sides of that fight.

"It becomes mentally taxing, too. You know that every night, having been both the opponent and the target, you know the emphasis you have to put on your video and how well prepared you have to be because it is a game every team puts on their calendar: the defending Stanley Cup champions."

The numbers would seem to bear that out. What that means for tonight, who knows, but it certainly doesn't bode well for Saturday, so the Hurricanes would be well served to enjoy their vengeance, whatever small modicum they can exact, tonight.

luke.decock@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8947

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