Commentary

How to deal with the big 3-0

Updated: May 26, 2009, 12:15 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

RALEIGH, N.C. -- There is something decidedly death row-like about visiting the locker room of a team down 3-0 in a playoff hockey series.

Carolina players rolled into the dressing room to answer questions about the futility of the situation ... you know, dead team walking.

You could almost do a clinical study on the phases teams like the Carolina Hurricanes go through when faced with the virtually impossible task of erasing a 3-0 series deficit. It would go something like this: denial, defiance, acceptance.

On Monday, the day before Tuesday's Game 4, denial and defiance were on display.

"Nobody rolls over. We're going to go out there and give it our best effort," Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour said. "We have all year, when we had to win, we came up with games. Obviously, we don't have a tomorrow if we don't. We know our situation and I think it's just a great opportunity for us to kind of stand up and make a stand.

"It's about playing your best hockey and then see what happens. If you do that, then at the end of the day, hey, if they still get you, then they get you. But give yourself that opportunity."

The history, of course, speaks for itself.

Only two times in the long history of the NHL has a team come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven playoff series and one of them was in 1942 -- 67 years ago. It simply does not happen.

It's why there was a strangeness to visiting the Canes' locker room. They confronted a group of reporters who, for the most part, believe the team has no shot at coming back from this deficit.

"I think it's human nature. I don't know how much of a chance we were given before the series," said Carolina's Eric Staal. "But we're confident. We've got a good group. We've got a lot of character and a lot of fight. We're not going to lay down. We're going to come out tomorrow night and give our best and go at it one game at a time."

One of the stand-up guys in the league, Staal has gallantly answered questions about his own lack of success in this series for days now. He never shies away. But the bottom line is, he has failed to score in six straight games and is minus-8 over that period. Meanwhile, his counterparts in the Penguins' dressing room, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, have had a field day against the Canes, combining for 14 points in three games.

Still, Staal seemed to relish the discussion Monday of being compared to Malkin and Crosby in terms of expectation.

"I'm counted on to score goals, and counted on to produce offensively," Staal said. "I think I need to be a little better in my end of the rink and focus on that first, and everything else will take care of itself. That's sort of the way my game is.

"When those opportunities come, they're going to fall. I didn't score 40 goals for no reason."

The other lightning rod for questions was goaltender Cam Ward. The former playoff MVP has been scarcely seen since Game 2, although Carolina officials insist he's been taking treatment and hasn't been hiding from the press.

On Monday, the soft-spoken, earnest netminder joked when asked if he thought the criticism of his play was fair (he's allowed 11 goals in the past two games and 14 throughout the series).

"I don't know. What have you been saying about me?" he said with a laugh. "Who's been talking the trash?"

But Ward also turned serious, saying he was prepared to take the heat and relished a chance to prove people wrong.

"I'll take it. I mean, I can hold myself just like everybody else here," Ward said. "I know that I can perform better in this series. I mean, they've got a lot of skill. They've got two possible MVPs in the league on their team. You know they can make you pay. But I'd like to think that I'm one of the leaders on this team, and I can lead by example, and if people want to put the heat on me, put the heat on me. I'll take it."

By the time a series reaches 3-0, discussion of the minutiae -- power-play set-up, neutral-zone gaps, turnovers -- seems to pale in comparison to the greater question: How will Carolina move beyond the elephant in the room that its task is virtually hopeless?

"Clearly, we believe in ourselves, so we think there are things that we can do better," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "You have to have that belief. It would be a tough, tough day for me to sit here and think that we couldn't play better with the results that we've had. There wouldn't be much point coming to the rink."

Sadly for Maurice and the Hurricanes, history suggests their time in this series is about to run out.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.