They're not talking about it of course, at least not in so many words. Still, it's clear the Hurricanes realize they have a great opportunity to take advantage of a Buffalo team that is now seriously depleted along its blue line.
|Teppo Numminen will miss Friday's Game 4. (Getty Images)|
"Obviously it's a tough loss for them, but it doesn't really change anything as far as what we do," said Carolina coach Peter Laviolette. "When we're playing our game, we try to take advantage of the other team's defense from the top of the circles down and we'll continue to make that a part of the game plan, but the fact that he's out is an area you try to exploit."
The injury to Tallinder, the result of an innocuous collision with Hurricanes forward Mark Recchi along the boards, will sideline Buffalo's top defenseman for the remainder of the playoffs. The impact of his absence was already apparent in the waning minutes of Game 3, when Carolina created a wave of sustained pressure that nearly netted them the equalizer.
"Missing a top guy will hurt because it's tough to replace anyone who plays a big role on your team," said Carolina center Kevyn Adams. "But the thing is that teams that get this far do so for a reason and that's depth.
"You never know how things are going to go, but they're going to have guys in there who can play and will be excited to play. We've got to be aware who's on the ice and make it tough for them."
For the Hurricanes, that means getting their legs moving for a full 60 minutes rather than in spurts, getting pucks deep and aggressively forechecking. Most importantly, they need to regain more of the physical tone they displayed in their Game 2 win. Carolina skated well in the first and third periods of the third game, but lost the game in the middle frame when they spent most of their time watching Buffalo fly past them and taking penalties in reaction to the Sabres' body work.
"We weren't skating well and because we were standing and we were easy targets to hit," said Laviolette. "When you're hitting, there's a chance you could react and we did by taking too many penalties."
That's a dangerous habit against the Sabres, whose potent power play has been one of their biggest assets in this postseason. Buffalo connected twice in Game 3 with the man advantage and scored a third goal only seconds after a Carolina penalty had expired.
"We went into the game putting together two different power-play units and before the game, we went through what we were going to try to do," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "Our puck movement was excellent and that alone opened some seams. Sometimes you get results when you change units around."
Ruff is certainly hoping for some similar magic when he finally does figure out who will be filling the rearguard spots in Game 4. He might dress one of his minor league call-ups Nathan Paetsch or Doug Janik and is even considering using speedy forward Jason Pominville, who has played the point on power plays and would add some mobility and offense to the back end.
Whoever gets the nod will join a group that now includes Jeff Jillson, a one-time first-round draft pick who was added to the lineup for the first time in the playoffs on Wednesday. Jillson responded with a very solid effort.
"He made some big plays on the power play but the rest of the game, you barely saw him which is a good sign," said Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere. "He didn't make mistakes, didn't turn the puck over.
"It's important for us to have a guy like that step up and be a key player."