The Pittsburgh Penguins ended the Canes' playoff run last season and did it in convincing fashion, with a four-game sweep that ended at the RBC Center.
Strange thing, though. The Pens will be back in town tomorrow night and not one of the Canes is talking in terms of payback. It's about the here and now, they say, about winning a game this season and as Rod Brind'Amour said today, "Getting back in the right direction."
Coach Paul Maurice said what's done is done. Even if the Canes were to win big, it won't erase the fact the Penguins are the defending Stanley Cup champions and won their matchup last season when it counted most, in the Eastern Conference finals.
"We're aware of how good they are -- we had a first-hand seat for that," Maurice said after today's practice. "We're going to have to play our best to beat them. They beat us because they deserved to and they deserved to win the next round, too."
Maurice noted that unlike the bruising, at times testy Eastern Conference semifinal series with Boston, the Canes' series with the Pens "wasn't overly vicious." It also went just four games, not seven.
"Maybe a few guys have some things they'd like to square away, but for the most part it was a pretty cleanly played series," Maurice said.
The problems of trying to beat the Penguins remain the same for the Canes: slowing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, beating goaltender Marc Andre-Fleury, dealing with the Pens' overall depth, quickness and explosiveness.
"But if you can find a way to beat 'em, it will make yourself feel pretty good and keep moving," Maurice said. "Everybody says it's early in the season but it's only early it you're moving in the right direction, and we'll know if we are."
Defenseman Aaron Ward noted that forward Erik Cole is out with an injury and defenseman Joni Pitkanen still not ready to rejoin the lineup.
"It's an opportunity for the guys who may not be put in positions of responsibility to really step up and show what they've got against a team that you can really gauge yourself against," he said.
The Pens aren't showing any evidence of a Stanley Cup hangover, starting the season 5-1.
"It's not a hard transition when you have the main core of your team returning," Ward said. "It's not like they have to get a few guys acclimated to who's in the locker room. They know who's there and they're very familiar with how they play and what their identity is."
Ward said the Canes might have to play it like a "sound road game" even though it's at the RBC Center.
"Try and limit their chances and be gritty," he said.