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East final – post-practice (May 25)

Some thoughts and observations Monday following off-day practices for the Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes from Raleigh, N.C.:

LOOKING AHEAD

The Stanley Cup final seems a sure bet to open this weekend in Detroit if the Red Wings and Penguins wrap their respective conference final series by Thursday.

The Cup final is set to start June 5. In fact, the NHL previously issued a press release identifying June 5-6 as dates for Games 1 and 2. However, an NHL official said the league has told U.S. television broadcast rights holder NBC it wants an earlier start date for the Cup final in the event of fast finishes to the West and East finals.

The NHL takes a ton of heat for perceived mistakes, but its push to move the Cup final to an earlier start is worthy of praise. It is better for the Cup final product and integrity of the TWO MONTH playoff-grind – hey, the Cup is considered the toughest trophy to win for good reason – to start the Cup final as soon as possible, almighty corporate TV dollars be damned.

JUST A LITTLE PATIENCE

They’ve been out-scored, 16-8, in the Eastern Conference final, but the Hurricanes believe turning too aggressive will only strengthen the Penguins’ offensive attack. Mistakes, Carolina players insist, have resulted in the numerous prime scoring chances by Penguins’ forwards.

“We’ve got to stay with that same mentality,” D Niclas Wallin said. “(The Penguins) are very good when they come on 3-on-2s, 3-on-1s, and they have defensemen that can move the puck.

“They haven’t changed anything. They’re playing a hard game. They’re good skaters. Obviously, they do it (fast) both ways. We just need to be patient and stick to our game plan. If it’s 0-0 after three periods, we’d like that – because if you get into up-and-down hockey with them, well, that’s their style.”

STAT THAT SHOULD INTEREST YOU

Through 16 playoff games, the Penguins are at plus-15 in goal differential. Through 15 playoff games, the Red Wings are at plus-24.

THE FAN VOICE

Dear readers ask, and I answer. From Paul Buzas of Poland, Ohio:

Did anyone notice (C Evgeni Malkin) filling in for (Penguins’ defensemen) that pinched deep? (Hurricanes C) Eric Staal was coming at (Malkin) one-on-one, and ‘Geno’ stole the puck. A great example of how the MVP plays in all three zones.

The Rossi Response: Great observation, Paul – one also made by several scribes at practice today as we discussed which Penguin is more deserving of playoff MVP consideration, Malkin or C Sidney Crosby. I’d like to see the playoffs play out before making that call, but as I will detail in Tuesday’s Tribune-Review, Malkin believes he’s never played better than he has the past two weeks.

Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi is the lead sports columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has been called many names, but “Rossi” is the one to which he most often responds. He joined the Trib in November 2002 and was promoted to the columnist role in July 2014. Previously, he had covered the NHL’s Penguins (2006-14) and MLB’s Pirates (2006), while also working on beats associated with the NFL’s Steelers (2005-06) and the NCAA’s Pitt (2004-06). He has won national and local awards for his coverage of youth concussions and athletes’ charities. Also, he is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association executive committee and the Pittsburgh chapter chair. Raised in Crafton and Green Tree and a graduate of West Virginia University, he has covered a Super Bowl, All-Star Games in baseball and hockey, the NCAA basketball tournament and over 100 Stanley Cup playoff games, including the Cup Final twice. Oh, and his sports reporting has led him to brief chats with Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen; so that’s pretty cool. He is a regular contributor on TV with WPXI, Root Sports Pittsburgh and TSN. Also, he is the authorized biographer of Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.

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