Ron Francis: Hurricanes' Quest for the Cup

Ron Francis, whose jersey was retired by the Hurricanes earlier this year after a 23-year hockey career, will blog exclusively for WRAL.com about the 'Canes bid for the Stanley Cup.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

"Get er done"

Finally, a home team won a hockey game in this series! Where do I start? Let's start with the good news. 1) The Canes won game five and are in the drivers seat. 2) Over the years, 80 percent of the teams who won game 5 have gone on to win the series. 3) The Canes special teams were very good tonight both on the PP and the PK. 4) The Canes had 2 breakaways in the game, and 5) Cam Ward was once again outstanding. Having said all that, I was not totally happy with the Canes game tonight. I really felt that in game 4 they had found their game again. They played very solid defensively in that game and did a great job of limiting any quality scoring chances by the Habs forwards. I thought that in game five the Canes would come out clicking on all cylinders after the 2 big wins in Montreal and start to dominate this series. They actually started well I thought, but Montreal did a good job of weathering the storm by dumping pucks off the glass and out into the neutral zone. As the game progressed, I felt that the Canes had to many turnovers in this game that resulted in a lot of opportunities for the Canadiens. Hey , the bottom line is the Canes won and the Habs didn't, and that is all that matters, but this game was won as a result of some good plays on the special teams and some key saves by Ward and not by a solid 60 minutes of hockey like we saw in game 4. Maybe it's the excitement of trying to put on a good show in front of the home crowd, and maybe the Canes will be able to play their game on the road in Montreal on Tues., only time will tell. The fact is the Canes are up 3-2 and in the drivers seat with two chances to eliminate the Habs. Lets not wait to game seven. "Get er done."

Friday, April 28, 2006

THEY'RE BAAACK!

I think y'all would agree with me when I say that's the team we were waiting to see. Right from the start I thought the Canes were solid. In the first they played a very smart, good defensive period. Exactly what the road team is suppose to do. The Canadiens on the other hand for the first time in the series were under pressure and seemed shaky. As a result, the Canes were able to jump out to a 2-0 lead. In the second, I thought the Canes still worked hard, but didn't seem to work as smart or execute as well as they did in the first and that opened the door for the Habs to climb back into the game. And give them credit, they took advantage of the opportunity. In the third the Canes were back to playing a solid game. They limited the Habs chances and were able to get the go ahead and eventual game winning goal. Once again Roddie played a huge role in the outcome, and for me it was also a great sign to see JustinWilliams elevate his game at such a critical time and under tough circumstances. This series reminds me in many ways of some heavyweight bouts. Early in the match the underdog comes out swinging, staggering the favorite, but unable to finish him off. Then the favorite is able to regain his senses and climb his way back into the match. That's where I think we are now. The Habs realize they had the Canes on the ropes. They also realize they couldn't put them away. They know they blew a great chance and now must try and find away to regain the advantage. An advantage that is clearly on the Canes side. I would expect the Canes to step on the ice Sunday night at the RBC to a deafening roar and that will help them to continue to play the game they were so successful with all year, a game that they finally found again in game 4. They're back!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

It's Far From Over

That was just what the doctor ordered! In a game the Canes could not afford to lose, they showed a lot of heart and character in finding a way to win a game that was not easy to win. The Canadiens did not make it easy for the Canes, but the Canes never quit and in the end were rewarded for perserveering. What can you say about the performance turned in by Cam Ward? Earlier today I said I wasn't sure he was ready for the test but that the future looked bright. Well, the future showed up in the Bell center tonight and it was impressive. He looked totally at ease right from the start of the game. He went from being part of the questions, to making an exclamation point. At no time did he look like a 22 year old kid who was playing in the biggest game of his young hockey career. Great job!!! As for the rest of the troops, I thought once again Roddie was impressive. He has clearly been the best player for the Canes so far in the series and his effort on the 1st goal tonight was nothing short of remarkable. Congrats to Staller on what will always be a very memorable 1st playoff goal. This game has now changed the dynamics of this series. Instead of being down 3-0, and fighting for their playoff lives, the series is now 2-1 and the Canes, although still down in the series must feel much better about themselves and their game. The Canadiens now will have more pressure on them to win game 4 because if they don't, the series becomes a best 2 out of 3 with the Canes having home ice again. Cam Ward has also put an interesting twist into this series. The Canes go from having a problem in net to giving the Canadiens a problem to try and solve. Ahh, you have to love the emotional ride the SC Playoffs take you on.
On a seperate note, as a player, I had a serious eye injury in my first year. Every time I see someone get cut in that area I cringe. Having had the opporunity to get to know Saku over the years I can tell you there are no guys in the league who have had to deal with the issues he has had to deal with, and very few guys in the league who exhibit the kind of class he does both on and off the ice. My thoughts and prayers are with you. I hope his injury is not serious and he is back out there soon. The NHL is a much better place with him out there.

Monday, April 24, 2006

No Music Yet

Where do we start. I expected the Canes to come out with more urgency then in game 1 and despite the score early, I thought they did that. However they did make some mistakes and had some bad breaks go against them early. A breakaway goal, a power play goal, and a deflected goal, spelled a 3-0 lead and the end to Martin Gerber's night. The 2nd period started with new line combinations and produced what I thought was the best period of hockey the Canes had played in a long time. 2 goals allowed them back in the game, and then in the 3rd they took the lead, gave it back, tied it up, and eventually lost in OT. I do think there were a lot more positives in this game then the first, but that doesn't make it feel any better. The bottom line is we are down 2 games to none with games 3 and 4 in their building. That being said, we did win there twice already this season, and the Canes showed tonight, they can play like they did before E Coles injury without him in the line up. The special teams were much better tonight in both areas. The PP scored 3 times and at critical times to help get the Canes back in the game and take the lead. The PK gave a goal up early but then did a stellar job of shutting down the Canadiens PP and at important times. The kill late in the 3rd allowed them to tie the game late and the 3 kills in OT gave them a chance to win. However, the defensive game was their problem yet again. With a 3rd period lead they got caught on a bad line change that led to a goal, gave the Canadiens 3 chances to score on Kovalev's goal, and sloppy work led to both the 5th and deciding 6th goal. The good news was Souray didn't play after being hurt in the 1st period which will affect their D, the bad was Whitney didn't play much late and that could mean he aggravated his lower body injury, and he sure helped the PP be more effective tonight. I know you are all going to hammer me on the next statement but I don't think Coach has an easy decision on who to start next game. Although Ward played extremely well tonight, it will be a lot harder for him to come in as a starter in a very hostile environment then it was tonight, and although Gerber hasn't played his best in this series, he is the guy who is responsible for getting the Canes in this position. I'm glad I don't have to make that call. I know the mountain seems a lot harder to climb right now, especially when you realize that it will take winning 4 of the next 5 games, but it can be done. The canes did beat them 4 straight times this year and it has happened in the NHL before, 14 times. The focus has to be on the next game and the next game only. Find a way to win that game and don't worry about anything else. Start with a good first shift and then a good second and so on, and you must realize that every time you step on the ice could be the difference in the series. It is true, there is little room for error now, but the fat lady isn't singing yet. Game 3 is a must!!!!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Start Gerber In Game 2

Well, that was unexpected. Before I get into my observations, let me start by answering the question I think is on most of your minds. Yes, I start Martin Gerber in game 2 Monday. Though he will receive a lot of the blame, I don't feel he deserves all of it. There were a lot of mistakes in front of him. I think he would be the first guy to tell you he needs to play better and he can, but tonight was one of those days at the office when nothing went right. Guys falling down at the wrong time, Turnovers in the defensive zone, bad special teams, goals going in off the post, they were all part of tonight's result. Some nights things are bad and tonight was one of those nights. Let's hope we got them all out tonight.

Give the Canadiens credit also, they played a solid, simple, but effective game. They were a little rattled with the early goal against them but settled down to play a great game. The playoffs are hard enough without helping to beat yourself, and in this game the Canes helped do just that. A crucial turning point was in the 2nd period when the Canes had a great chance to get back into the game with a 5 on 3. Not only did they not score, but right after the power play expired, the Canadiens went down on a breakaway and scored. Game over.

This was only one game of potentially seven and there is a lot of hockey left to be played, but you don't want to head back to Montreal down 2-0.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Chase Begins

Well, here we are. It finally starts today. The Hurricanes chase of the Stanley Cup once again begins today after 4 long years. I'm sure everyone is both excited and nervous as to what lays ahead. As nervous and excited as you are, imagine the players. After a long summer of conditioning, training camp, exibiton games, and then 82 regular season games, finally they get the opportunity to compete for the cup. The ultimate dream for every hockey player that ever laced up a pair of skates.
As exciting as this time of year is for the players it is also the most demanding. Physically and mentally the chase for the cup is the most emotional roller coaster ride out there in pro sports. You understand that if you lose, it's over. All the hard work, all the success you enjoyed during the regular season means nothing, all you have is bitter disapointment and another 10 months of hard work ahead of you to hopefully get a chance to compete for the cup again next year. So as a result, you know that you have to give everything you have every night, leave it all out there on the ice. That's the easy part. The hard part is that you have to find a way to elevate your game to the highest level possible not for one game, not for a week or so, but instead you will have to find a way to raise your game to it's highest level, potentially, every second day, for hopefully 2 months. You will have to play with injuries, and with pain, and that's the easy part. Mentally you have to prepare for just about everything possible. Making sure you are getting the proper nutrition, hydrating your body with the right fluids to help replace those 4-10 lbs. of mostly water weight you will lose every game are an absolute must. Preparing yourself for your opposition is aslo very important. What are their strenghts/weaknesses, do any of them have certain tendencies that they will consistently use, which guys are shooters/passers, is there a certain way the centermen take draws, special teams, the goalies strenghts/weaknesses, the list goes on. There is also a different kind of pressure that comes with playoff hockey. You expect more from yourself, you expect more from your teammates, so do the fans, so do the media, and all these things factor in on your ability to succeed. If things are going well, there is nothing better, if things aren't it seems like the world in on your shoulders. If things are going well, when the game ends, you get a bite to eat, replace your fuids, and climb into bed to get some rest. You might replay some of the game in your head before peacefully falling off to sleep. If things are not going well, you still eat and get your fluids, but when you climb into bed, you replay the whole game in your head, and revisit all those things I mentioned earlier about preparing for the oppenent to try and see where you might change things to help your team find success, and before you know it your still awake at 3-4-5 in the morning. Think about it, you have to elevate your game both physically and emotionally to the highest level possible to play the game, then immediately after it's over you have to replace fluids, eat, and try and bring yourself down from that emotional high of the game and get as much rest as you can because in less than 48 hours you are going to have to do it all over again, and this hopefully is something you get to do for 2 whole months. And that doesn't even factor in the possibility that you are doing this with at least some amount of physical pain.
For the first time since I retired, I wouldn't mind being out on the ice tonight when the chase begins. Put your seatbelts on, it is one hec of a ride!

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Key to the Cup

Goaltending, how important is it? I can guarantee you won't win the cup without good goaltending. In this series, there will be a lot of questions that will need to be answered concerning the goalies. How will Gerber handle the playoff pressure? The pressure of being the favorite? Can Huet play at the level he did in the stretch drive for Montreal? How will he handle the pressure of the playoffs and the pressure of the Montreal fans and media? From what I have seen from both goalies this season, I see no reason to speculate that either one of them will be greatly affected by the pressure of playing for the Stanley Cup.