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.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Game Seven

Well, as exciting as game sevens can be, I know nobody in this area was looking forward to watching one. This game reminded me in a lot of ways of game 5. In that game I thought the Canes didn't play a great game but won, and tonight, I didn't think they played all that bad a game and they lost. The first period was definitely all Buffalo, but at the end of it the Canes were only down 1 and that is not a bad spot for a visiting team in a hostile environment. You want to weather the storm and still be within striking distance at the end of 20 minutes of playoff hockey on the road, and the Canes did that. As the 2nd and 3rd periods progressed, I thought the Canes did a good job of slowly taking over the game. When Hedican scored, I'm sure a lot of you felt like I did, the game was now theirs. But again, similar to game 5, there was a great scoring chance near the end of the game, this time by Brindy not Afiniganov, and this time the save was by Miller and not Ward. The similarities don't end there. In overtime, this time it was Weight penalized and not Dumont, and this time Buffalo scored on the PP and not Carolina. So here we are. A game seven on the horizon. A game seven in the RBC. As a player I never wanted to have to play a game seven when my team was up 3-2, but I always wanted to play a game seven when my team was down 3-2. I also, always wanted that game seven to be in my building, with my fans, in a comfortable surrounding. That is where the Canes are now. The reason they worked hard all year was just incase there was a game seven, it would be in their building. The focus has to be all on game seven. Nothing that has happened this far in the playoffs or the regular season means a thing now, only Game 7. Historically game sevens are awesome. You think your heart has taken a beating to this point, game seven will show your heart that everything up to this point is childs play. There is no tomorrow. You win, you get to play for the Cup. You lose, you take out your Titleist Clubs and head for the links. As much as I love my Titleist Clubs, I would still like to watch hockey in Raleigh for a few more weeks.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Found A Way

Well, if I'm going to be totally honest with you I must say that tonights game was not at all what I expected. I really thought that after the last game the Canes were ready to make a big statement tonight at the RBC in front of the home fans. I thought they would come out flying and most likely have the game and series in control by the end of the first period. So much for my thoughts. I didn't think the Canes played as well as they are capable of. They seemed to not be skating as well as usual. I'm not sure if that had to do with understanding the importance of winning this game, or having the same thoughts I was having about Buffalo really being in a tough position with 3 top defenseman out as well as a top forward, and having to come to Raleigh for game 5. Whatever the reason, I didn't think they played their best. I also must say that a lot of the Canes problems were caused by the play of the Sabres. Buffalo showed a ton of character by competing the way they did, especially when it seemed that everyone(myself included) had counted them out of this series. They had every excuse to use, but instead played a gutsy game. There is no way I would have beleived you if you told me they would be able to hold the Canes to 1 shot in the 3rd period. But they did, and actually, for even longer than 20 minutes. In the end though, the Canes FOUND A WAY to win, and that is the most important stat of all. Thanks to great PK ing(Buf was 0-4) and 2 huge goals by the PP(2-7), not to mention 2 enormous saves by Ward(1 in the dying minutes of the 3rd on a breakaway, and 1 in OT on the pass across the crease), the Canes were able to find a way to win the game. In the playoffs you need a lot of things to go right to win the cup. You need to stay healthy, you need good bounces, you need lots of luck, great goaltending and you need to win some games when you don't play your best. Tonight's game was yet another good sign for the Canes. I would like to be able to say to you this series is over. I would like to be able to tell you that Buffalo won't be able to bounce back from this devastating loss. But the truth of the matter is both these teams are talented, both are deep, and both have a great deal of pride and character in their respective locker rooms. So, I guess the only thing I can say is there has been 5 real good games in this series and I expect game 6 to be another beauty. I can't wait til Tuesday.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Welcome Back Martin

Now that is what I was talking about when I said they were still okay. Other than the chances the Canes gave up early, (Gerber was huge early), I thought the Canes settled in nicely to their game. They did a good job defensively in all areas of the game. Their PK was much better tonight and their PP scored an important goal at a crucial point, both real good signs. The Canes did a good job of working a depleted Buffalo defense that actually played better than I thought they would. A defense though, that once it was behind, had a tough time igniting the Sabre transition game and as a result had to take more chances which led to opening themselves up more than they would have liked to. Martin Gerber did a nice job returning to the net tonight. He made some big saves early and that seemed to give him the confidence he showed all year long. As well as he played tonight, I don't think he won the game for the Canes. I don't say that to sound mean, but rather just like I didn't think he was the reason the Canes lost the first 2 playoff games, I think the team that played in front of him tonight was more like the team that played in front of him all season. The team that played in front of him the first 2 playoff games was not! So all in all the Canes did what they had to do, regain home ice and in a convincing fashion. I fully expect a loud RBC Center on Sun. and that will lead to a huge start for the Canes. If Buffalo is to win this series, it will be imperitive they survive the first period of that game. If not, there will be no looking back for the Canes.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

We're Still Okay

Wow, I didn't see that coming. After the first two games in Raleigh, I felt the Canes were pretty much in control of this series, having dominated 5 of the first 6 periods. Tonight kind of reminded me a little of game 1, where the Canes played well in periods 1 and 3 but not in
period 2. Buffalo's dominance in period two, which was helped by the numerous penalties the Canes took, turned out to be the difference in the hockey game. Carolina, however, should gain a lot of confidence by the fact that they were able to come back and almost tie the game up. The focus now shifts squarely on game 4. The Canes needed only to win one game in Buffalo and still have that opportunity on Friday night, where as Buffalo needed to win both games in order to maintain home ice advantage in the series. The Canes need to stay out of the penalty box and avoid a lull like they had in period 2 tonight and they will be fine. I think we are still okay.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Mission Accomplished

Although the Canes didn't start the way I expected, they started to take over the game about half way through the 1st period and didn't look back. The 2nd period was complete domination as noted by the 16-4 shots on net edge by the Canes and the 28-10 edge over the first 2 periods. The final 4-3 score was in no way indicative of the way the game was played. I really expected the Canes to win this one, since they found out in the 1st round just how tough it is to come back from a 2-0 games hole. Now that the Canes have climbed back into this series, the must gear themselves up for a very critical game 3 in Buffalo Wed. The Canes PP was good again, but their PK needs to be better, especially now that they are going on the road where special teams can make a huge difference in determining wins and losses. The Canes for most of the first 2 games were the better team, but the series is tied with the next 2 games in Buffalo. The Canes obviously need to win at least 1 of the next 2 games but the pressure would be greater on them to win game 4 if they were down 2-1 after game three, and conversely, the pressure would be greater on Buffalo if they were down 2-1 with game five looming in Raleigh, so game 3 is a huge game for both teams. The Canes need to play the same way they did for most of the first 2 games and also must realize that the Sabre team that will they see in Buffalo will be different from the one they saw in Raleigh. Tonight the Canes did exactly what they needed to do; mission accomplished. However, there is not much time to enjoy it since the next mission is only 2 nights away. It should be another beauty!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Fast Enough?

Wow! Was that fast enough for you? What a fast paced game. It was kind of different games within the game. I thought the first period was pretty much dominated by the Canes. After the first goal by the Sabres, the Canes seemed to settle down and get into their game. As a result, they had the majority of scoring chances and really could have had a big lead after the first. I must admit I was a little concerned when the Canes played as well as they did in the first and the game was only tied 1-1. The second period was totally different from the first. It seemed like the Sabres gained some confidence in the first intermission, knowing they had not played their best in the first and were still in the hockey game. The second period was a totally different period. Buffalo was skating much better in this period and the Canes weren't. As a result the Sabres took over the game and if not for a skate save by Commodore it could have been 3-1 at the end of 2 instead of the 2-1 score. In the 3rd, things changed once again. The Canes dominated the period but in the end still lost the game. Overall this was a close game on most fronts. PK,PP,shots, scoring chances, etc. were fairly even. As we said before this series started, it will be a close one. The Canes don't have to change much other than finding a way to score on some of their chances and changing the end result of the game. They will have a chance to accomplish that on Mon. night.

Friday, May 19, 2006

ROUND 3-Buffalo

Alright, almost time to get back to work! When these 2 teams look in the mirror they must see each other. Both teams have rookie goaltenders in net and a very capable backup ready to go in if needed. They both have unheralded defences that are vastly under rated, and a group of forwards that are both very talented and very deep. The Canes and Sabres both could be considered the poster team for the new NHL. They like to play an up tempo, aggressive, high paced game. If you like offense, you are going to love this series. I don't expect to see any 1-0 games in this round. On special teams, The Canes will need to keep producing on the PP and be mindful of the Sabres PK which has already scored 5 short handed goals. Although it will be hard to duplicate their performance in the NJ series, the special teams are critical to the success or failure this time of year. The Canes are now in the drivers seat in these playoffs( they are the highest seed left), but this will be their toughest test yet. Having said all that, I think the key to this series will be which team plays better defensively. The better you are in your own end the less time you spend there, and the less time you spend in your end the more time you get to spend in your opponents end, thus giving you a better chance to win. Also, there will be goals scored in this series, and how each team deals with that fact will play an important part of who wins this round. You will need to have a very short memory. The speed will cause a lot of mistakes and the team that does a better job of correcting those mistakes, and being able to let go of a mistake made and refocus on the task at hand with unwavering confidence, will be the team that gets to play for the Stanley Cup. The Canes are half way up the mountain, but the climb will be a lot tougher from here on out. If they stick to their game plan and play at the level their capable of they should be fine. Only one thing is for certain in this round, you the fans are going to be treated to some extremely exciting hockey. There will be a lot of momentum swings during these games; there will be an extremely fast pace to all the games; and your emotions will once again tug at your heart. Only this time with the stakes a little higher, the tugs will seem a little harder and the success will seem a little sweeter. ENJOY!!!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Half Way Home

Well other than the start, I felt the Canes did exactly what they needed to do to close this series out. The early goal could have been harmful, but they did a good job of recovering from that, and killing the 4 penalties that could have caused them to be in a big hole had they not done so. Once the Canes settled in after the first 10 minutes or so, I thought they took over the game. Again they won the special teams battle and it turned out to be the difference in the game. As I said at the start of this series, I liked the matchup, and I think as the series progressed, the Devils lack of depth up front compared to the Canes, and the inability to handle the Canes speed with their defense, turned out to be the difference in the series. I think the Devils had a good run, but I expect them to be a retooled team come next Sept. As for the Canes, I said earlier I liked the matchup against Montreal and I liked the matchup against NJ, but with Buffalo up next, things will get a little bit tougher. Let's all take a few days to rest and relax before the next series begins( my guess is Sat.) and I will get back to you later in the week to preview the next round. It should be a beauty! As for now, let's enjoy the fact that we're half way home, and let's all hope that Stillman's injury is not that serious!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Mom's Day at the RBC

Alright then, where do we start? I guess we could talk about the 11 penalties, or getting beat on the special teams. Or, we could talk about the fact that the bounces didn't go the Canes way today. But to me, I thought that NJ was the better team today. They seemed to be quicker than the Canes, who didn't bring their "A" game to the Meadowlands today. I have to think that part of the problem was the fact that the Canes spent the last 2 days sitting around in their hotel waiting for the game to be played. But whatever the reason was, it was one of those days. The key is not what happened today, but rather being able to put that game out of your mind and refocus on what is ahead. With the short time in between games, there will not be much time to address things on the ice so you can be sure the coaches will be reviewing tape on the flight to Raleigh, and expressing the changes needed in meetings tomorrow. For the Canes the short turn around is both good and bad. Although they still have a solid hold on the series, NJ has the momentum from the last game and there is not a lot of time for them to regroup before they are back on the ice for game 5. But, any time you lose like that you want to get back on the ice as soon as possible to try and change things and the Canes don't have to wait long for that chance. I would expect Cam Ward to be back in net tomorrow and I would also expect to see a hungrier Canes team step onto the ice with a mission to close this series out. You don't want to go back to NJ for a game 6. Also, Happy Mother's Day to all the Mom's and remember, it's not ever year you get to spend "your day" tailgating at the RBC. Enjoy!!!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Special Teams! Special Teams! Special Teams!

Sorry again for the delay on posting my thoughts. Read most of your comments and it seems to me y'all had some pretty good observations on the game. Anytime you are up 2-0 in a series and heading into the oppositions building for game 3, you expect them to come out hard and toss all they have at you. NJ did that at the start of the game and was able to take the 1-0 lead. AS the road team it is important in these kind of games to stay patient and wait for some breaks, and the Canes did that. They weathered the storm early and then got a PP. Once again, they were able to score on the PP and that seemed to turn the tide somewhat. Another break came shortly after the goal when NJ turned the puck over in their own end and J Williams was able to take advantage of it. To be up 2-1 at the end of 1 is a good spot to be in as the road team. However, the intermission gave NJ some time to regroup and it showed early in the 2nd when they came out hard and had the Canes on their heels. With the score tied 2-2, the Canes got a great opportunity to take control of the game with the 4 min. PP at the latter part of the period, and once again the PP took full advantage of the chance it was given. A real positive for me is the fact that for, I believe, the third time in the playoffs the Canes went into the 3rd period with a 1 goal lead and were able to protect it. That is huge this time of the year. There is no doubt that in playoff hockey there will be times within the game were the tide seems to be changing and the key in those times is to maintain your focus and simplify your game until you can get a chance to turn it around. There is no question that the Canes are getting some breaks in this series( just look at Staal's goal in Game 2), but the key is to take full advantage when those opportunities present themselves and the Canes are doing that, especially on the special teams. That has been the difference in the series. As for game 4, the extra day will give NJ some time to look at the tape and see what they did that worked and what didn't. The Canes will try not to sit around the hotel for 2 days waiting, but instead try to rest and get ready for the next game knowing that it is important to not let NJ get any momentum. The clinching game is always the hardest to win, especially when your facing a proud franchise like NJ that has had a lot of playoff success in the past. Saturday's game sets up to be a good one.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Your Thoughts?

I hate to say this but I haven't seen a lick of the game tonight. I had a dinner function to attend and as a result I am just getting home. But, through the wonders of TIVO, I am about to sit down and watch the game. I do know the Canes won, and I do appologize for not being able to post my thoughts on the game yet, but I will do that in the morning. In the mean time don't hesitate to voice your observations. Be back to you soon!

Monday, May 08, 2006

JUST REWARD

What? You didn't think it was going to be as easy as Sunday did you? Other than the first period, where I thought the Devils played better than in game1, and the Canes didn't play as well as they played in game one, I thought the Canes showed once again why I like this match up. The Canes outshot the Devils in the last 2 periods and overtime 30-9. They owned the face off circle 40-23. Yes it was lucky to score a goal 17 seconds after NJ went up 2-1, but I felt they had really taken over the game in the 3rd priod and deserved to win the game. Defensively, the Canes did a good job of keeping the Devils smaller forwards on the perimeter, and not giving them a lot of real good quality chances. Offensively, they did a good job of causing confusion for the Devils buy using their speed to pressure and by using the area behind the NJ net to their advantage. Once again they won the special teams battle and have yet to allow a NJ PP goal in the series. Yes, this game was a lot closer on the scoreboard, but a lot of that was a result of Brodeur bouncing back with a tremendous game( like we all expected), and not because the game was played evenly. In the end, I'm sure NJ feels they let one get away, and I'm sure the Canes feel they got what they deserved. Both teams are right. The Canes were lucky to get a goal with 3 seconds left, but they also were the better team for most of the game. The Canes did what they had to do winning 2 games at home, now the focus turns to NJ and the goal becomes winning game 3. NJ on the other hand understands the situation they are in and have a lot of playoff experience to help dig themselves out of the hole they're in. Wednesday night should be another beauty.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Great Start

When I said I liked the match up, even I didn't like it(6-0) that much. The Canes did exactly what they had to. They played their best game defensively in the playoffs and also showed that relentless pursuit of the puck that made them so successful during the regular season. They also shut down NJ's PP and obviously were very successful on their PP. They also did a great job of getting traffic in front of Brodeur. Having said all that, I would expect a different NJ team on Monday. Today the bounces went the Canes way, and NJ looked like a team that had a week off. NJ did not have the usual loose puck battle mentality that you would expect at this time of year. I expect that to change next game. The Canes on the other hand don't have to change, but rather maintain the same grit and determination they displayed in today's game. This was clearly their best game so far and I'm not saying that because of the score, but because of the way they played. The challenge for the Canes is similar to it was early in the first round when they were down 0-2, not letting themselves get down to low and stay focused on the game at hand. Now, they must do the same thing, not let themselves get to high after that win and be ready to do it all over again Monday. Keeping your emotions in check are a huge part of the playoffs.

Canes/Devils

How's it going ,eh?( that was for my Canadian friend) Hope everyone is rested and ready to buckle up once again because the emotional roller coaster ride of the NHL playoffs is about to begin once again. Let me start by saying I like the match up. I know what your saying. How can he like a match up against a team that has won 15 straight? For starters, Ottawa and the Canes were on par for the whole season, so I would like to save that match up for the next round, if they get there. Buffalo is clicking on all cylinders right now and came into Raleigh and put on a pretty impressive show in the last game, so again, save them for the next round. That leaves the lesser of three evils, The Devils, a team that won 11 straight down the stretch and easily handled the Rangers in the first round, but hasn't played in a VERY LONG time. Interesting match up. In net the Devils have an experienced, extremely talented, future hall of fame goalie Martin Brodeur. The Canes have a guy who grew up idolizing Martin Brodeur. But the good news is they both play a similar game. They both handle the puck real well and they both see the whole ice very well and have great hockey sense. If you don't think Ward has hockey sense, just ask Mike Robeiro. So this should be another great duel in net. Up front, this is not the same Devil team you are use to seeing. Yes they are still good defensively, but not as good as they were in the past and I think the Canes will be able to generate a lot more scoring chances. They do, however have a much better power play than they have had in the past, so they Canes will have to do a good job of both limiting their PP opportunities and when they do give them one, do a good job of limiting their scoring chances. In the face off circle, I think the Canes should have a big edge, which shoud lead to more puck possession over the course of the game and series. But, the whole key to the Canes having success in thie series will once again start in their own end. They must do a good job defensively in limiting the Devils quality scoring chances. I feel that NJ has more guys who can take advantage of turnovers or sloppy play in the defensive end than Montreal did, so solid defense is a must for the Canes in this series. This series, like the last one looks to be a good one. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Movin' On

As I sit down to write this blog, it occurs to me that nobody is going to read it tonight because y'all are going to be at the airport waiting for the plane to come in. Oh well, maybe y'all will read it after you wake up in the morning. Where do I start? Was it the best series the Canes could have played? Probably not, but they found a way to "Get R done", and that is really what the playoffs are all about. There will be times in a series when things go right, and there will times when they don't, hec, there will be times within a game when things will go from good to bad or vice-versa real fast. That is why it is important to remain focused on the big picture and not let yourself get caught in the moment. Don't get too high when things go well and don't get too low when they go bad. This series was a great test in that regard for the Canes. Down 2-0, it would have been easy to feel sorry for themselves but they didn't, instead they battled back and found a way to change the momentum in the series and eventually win it. Was it easy? Absolutely not! Five 1 goal games, (2 in OT, and 1 in double OT), now that's a real good series. This series was a real good test for the Canes in many different ways and the confidence they gained from winning this round will help them as they head into the next round against the Devils. We'll leave that discussion for another blog, but for now, let's just enjoy the moment. The Canes faced adversity in this series and it made them stronger, that's a good sign for what lies ahead. We're movin' on.