This article, goes for an underdog.... topic! I love the initative of the journalist. It makes the article worth reading, and super fun to write. Too bad it's written by "CP". I wish I knew who actually wrote it. So if anyone does know... drop me a line ;)
Hurricanes GM Rutherford: Montreal was the toughest test of all
(CP) - Eleven teams have been eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs and Jim Rutherford believes his Carolina Hurricanes beat the best of them.
But the general manager isn't talking about the New Jersey Devils.
"No disrespect to Philadelphia, Ottawa and New Jersey, they're all good teams, but some teams are a little better than others and I think Montreal is one of those teams," Rutherford said from Raleigh, N.C.
It's a surprising statement given the fact Montreal was seeded seventh, but Rutherford is adamant the Canadiens could have gone a long way.
"I don't think people gave Montreal enough credit for one, how their coaching staff prepared them; and two, how well they played," said Rutherford. "That team was good. And that was one heck of a series. We can talk about teams on paper and what teams did during the regular season and things like that, but when I look at all the games in the playoffs and I watch most of them, I think Montreal is as tough a team to beat in this year's playoffs as any."
Carolina fell behind 2-0 in the first round against the Canadiens before reeling off four consecutive one-goal victories, including a pair in overtime, to beat the Habs.
"Watch those games - you don't get any second to lull through a game with Montreal," said Rutherford. "They're one of those teams."
Star centre Eric Staal agreed with his boss.
"Oh yeah, they were playing really well, it was a battle every night," Staal said on the phone this week. "There were some really close games. Every game was one goal except for the first when we got pounded by them. They're pretty good, they're fast and their goaltender was playing really well."
The rest of the hockey world was more impressed with Carolina's tidy five-gamer over the Devils, who carried a 15-game win streak into the second round and were seen by many as potential Stanley Cup champions. It was no contest.
"I think our team had more balance and was deeper," said Rutherford. "And the longer it went the more advantage we had. I think it showed in games where New Jersey had real strong first periods but then second and third periods our team dominated the game. Game 1 we were more prepared for that game and won it. And Game 2 and Game 3 could have gone either way. We ended up on the top end of it."
Staal admits the quick victory over the previously hot Devils was a little surprising.
"I don't think we had envisioned going up 3-0 on them," said the 21-year-old native of Thunder Bay, Ont. "Beating them in five is probably not what we thought would happen but once we started playing and saw what kind of style we could play against them we realized we'd be all right."
The Hurricanes may be in for an even bigger test starting Saturday with Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final against the Buffalo Sabres.
"Buffalo and Carolina are almost a mirror of each other, both teams are a lot alike," said Rutherford. "One team had 112 points and the other had 110 and I believe both teams beat very good opponents to get to where they are."
The Sabres and Hurricanes are the two biggest surprises this season in the Eastern Conference, both teams built for the new NHL with speed and skill on every forward line.
"No question, we're very similar in nature I think," said Staal. "We're both young, we both have balanced scoring, we both have rookie goalies, it's going to be a skating game and an entertaining series and a good time. I'm looking forward to it."
A Carolina-Buffalo series likely won't drive up the TV ratings in Canada but Rutherford hopes people will realize what kind of hockey will be on display.
"I've seen a lot of great hockey through these first few rounds and I think we'll continue to see it," he said. "And hopefully the interest remains."
Staal, meanwhile, is enjoying the ride. The sophomore centre has been dynamite, leading the Hurricanes with five goals and 10 assists in 11 games.
"It's been a lot of fun," Staal said. "You look forward to this time of year - the level of intensity is awesome. It's been so enjoyable, starting with my first-ever playoff experience in Montreal. It was crazy up there.
"We've got veterans who have been around and that makes it easier for a guy like myself, it calms your nerves a little bit. It's been good."****