- E.J. Hradek, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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EDMONTON, Alberta -- Somewhere, Lindy Ruff had to be laughing.
During the Eastern Conference final, the Sabres coach made several unflattering remarks about the Hurricanes. He called the Canes an "arrogant" team. Ruff also felt the Canes were a bit too whiny.
On Saturday night, after a bitter 2-1 loss to the Oilers in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals, Ruff's words seemed to have a ring of truth.
Captain Rod Brind'Amour -- a top candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy -- didn't distinguish himself in the agony of defeat. As untold media members waited patiently for a few words from the team captain, Carolina manager of media relations Kyle Hanlin told the hoard that Brind'Amour wouldn't be coming out.
This isn't game No. 7 of the regular season. This is the Stanley Cup finals. The event is covered by hundreds of media throughout North America and around the world.
This isn't the time for a team captain to hide in the changing room. That is especially true when you consider that many of the major newspapers in the U.S. opted to pass on covering the event. In fact, so many major papers bailed on the series, the league ripped up the seating chart after Game 1, moving the attending media into the many empty seats.
Eventually, after much prompting, Brind'Amour stopped on his way to the shower to address the handful of media members who had later deadlines and could wait it out. When he did speak, he wasn't ready to throw any bouquets at the Oilers.
"No, I don't think so," Brind'Amour said, when asked if he felt the Oilers had played better in Game 3 than they played in the first two games.
The captain, who tied the game with his 12th goal of the postseason at the 9:09 mark of the third period, felt the Hurricanes' power play cost them the game.
"Our power play was not very good at all," he said. "It was horrible."
Well, here's a little news flash: The Oilers' penalty killers did an excellent job of limiting the Canes. Edmonton head coach Craig MacTavish promised some subtle changes in his team's penalty killing after surrendering four power-play goals in the first two games of the series. And, he delivered. The Oilers' penalty-killing units were much more aggressive, not allowing the Canes too much time to make plays. They also closed down the passing lanes through the middle of the ice.
Would it kill the captain to tip his lid to the Oilers' penalty killers? I can't imagine it would.
He answered three more questions before retiring to the shower. He was most expansive on the biggest moment in the game -- Ryan Smyth's controversial game-winner with just 2:15 remaining in regulation time.
On the play, Oilers winger Ales Hemsky moved down the right wing side. Linemate Ryan Smyth was a few strides ahead of Hemsky, who was looking to get the puck to his captain. In a bang-bang play around the net, where Smyth and Canes' goalie Cam Ward came together, the puck dropped behind Ward and into the net. It was the type of play that could have gone either way. Tonight, it went against the Canes.
"It's not so much the interference, it's the explanation. That's what gets me," said Brind'Amour, who reportedly showered referees Mick McGeough and Paul Devorski with some choice words on his way back to the locker room in the seconds after the game's final buzzer. "He [one of the refs] said it hit him outside the crease and it went in. Well, that's not what happened, so that's what is frustrating. It hit him outside the crease and it went in. That's his explanation. It's a crock. It's not what happened."
Ward, who turned in another strong effort in defeat, turned down an interview request when leaving the team's locker room.
Speaking earlier, Ward wasn't as tough on the officials.
"It was one of those things that could have gone either way," Ward reportedly said.
Then, Ward added an interesting side note.
"We saw in Montreal the same kind of deal with Roddy," said Ward, who was speaking of a disallowed goal by Brind'Amour in Game 4 of the club's first-round series against the Canadiens. "I don't know. That's why those guys are there to make those decisions."
Remembering the goal, it was a similar play. Brind'Amour was in the crease when he put a rebound past Canadiens goalie Cristobal Huet. Referee Don VanMassenhoven immediately indicated it was a goal, but the other referee Tim Peel blew his whistle before the puck crossed the line, waving off the goal. Brind'Amour argued the call, calling it "surreal."
On Saturday, unlike his captain, though, Canes coach Peter Laviolette was willing to face the truth about Game 3.
"They did a real good job of getting stick on stick, stick on puck, not making opportunities easy," said Laviolette. "When we did have some good quality chances in front, Markkanen made big saves for them."
Another Hurricane put the club's Game 3 performance into plain English.
"We didn't play well enough," said center Kevyn Adams. "Really, it was as simple as that."
Yes, it was. It's too bad their captain wasn't willing to admit it and move on.