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Goalie stays calm in eye of storm

Carruth perfect as Winterhawks claim playoff opener
by:  MAC CARRUTH

Mac Carruth was doing his best Marcel Marceau as he met with the media following the Winterhawks' 4-0 victory over Everett Saturday night in the opener of their best-of-seven playoff series at the Rose Garden.

Portland's goaltender had made 32 saves in posting his third career shutout and the Hawks' first in the postseason in five years - heady stuff for a youngster in his first full season as a regular.

But a hockey goalie is much like a baseball pitcher or a football quarterback - the center of attention, win or lose. Carruth, who has been on both ends of the teeter-totter, knows a calm disposition is the goalie's greatest ally.

'You're the hero or the zero,' said Carruth, who turned 19 on Friday. 'It's like Tom Brady out there. You just have to stay even-keel.'

As a 17-year-old rookie last season, Carruth wasn't the best at that, and at times it got the best of him on the ice.

'Got a little bit of temper on me,' he said. 'I'm pretty hard on myself as well. I'd like to work on that a bit more. Just try to stay in the moment.'

Carruth has been better at it this season, according to his coach.

'Mac is an emotional, competitive guy,' Mike Johnston said. 'You respect that in him. Last year, he was a little more emotional. This year, he has come down to a controllable level. It's fine now.'

The Hawks swarmed Everett like a tsunamai in the first period Saturday night, scoring three goals in the first eight minutes and outshooting the Silvertips 19-3 in the period. Carruth could have been pardoned for taking a bit of a siesta the first 20 minutes.

'It's sometimes hard for a goaltender not to face many shots in the first period,' Johnston allowed. 'You like for him to get into a rhythm almost. From a team perspective, you're happy with how we played defensively. From Mac's point of view, I'm sure he'd have liked to have had a few more shots to handle to get a feel for the game.'

The visitors got it together midway through the second period and put some pressure on Carruth. He never cracked, stopping 29 shots the final two periods.

'When we needed him tonight, he was really good,' Johnston said. 'In the second period, there were a lot of loose pucks, a lot of scrambles around the net. He looked very comfortable in there.'

Carruth didn't appear rusty, even after playing only one game in the past three weeks. First there was a concussion that took him out of the lineup. He returned, only to strain a hamstring after one game back. He played last Friday against Everett, then was rested to prepare for the postseason.

'We were a little bit concerned,' Johnston confessed. 'Not that he's not ready and not a good goaltender, but he hasn't had a lot of action lately. But that also means he's rested, he's fresh. With some other goaltenders around the league, fatigue could become a factor.'

Carruth finished 14th among Western Hockey League goaltenders this season with a 3.08 goals-against average. His .913 saves percentage ranked sixth.

'I feel I've played well,' he said. 'We're a wheel-and-deal team, so if I can play better than the other goalie most nights, we'll get a 'W.'

'The fans can blame me for losses if they want - whatever, that's their gig - but hopefully, I can win games for us.'

Carruth won the starter's job late last season and was the Hawks' primary goalie in the playoffs, when they beat Spokane, then fell to Vancouver in the second round. Carruth took some heat as he struggled at times, especially against the loaded Giants.

'The media let me have it there when I was struggling, but that's life, right?' Carruth said. 'What are you going to do about it? Just have to step up to the plate. Makes you play harder.'

So does playing under the spotlight appeal to him?

'The guys would probably say yeah to that,' Carruth said. 'You have to be a little bit weird, with guys are shooting 100 mile-an-hour shots at you. You have to handle the pressure well.

'If I didn't like it, I wouldn't be here. I like to think I thrive off that kind of thing. I play better when the chips are down and everyone's going harder.'

The most successful of the Winterhawks patrolling the crease through the years - Bart Hunter, Darrell May, Ian Wood, Byron Dafoe and Brent Belecki among them - have had the same kind of attitude.

The 6-3, 175-pound Carruth spent his first 10 years in the resort town of Jackson Hole, Wyo., skiing and playing hockey. His father, Bob, a former college goalie, ran the skating rink there. The Carruths then moved to Shorewood, Minn., where at age 14, he left home to play Midget AAA hockey in Chicago.

Now Carruth - chosen in the seventh round of the 2010 NHL draft by the Chicago Blackhawks - is in Portland, having the time of his life and speaking with an accent that sounds strangely Canadian.

'Too many Canadian kids in the locker room, probably,' he said, laughing. 'It kind of rubs off on you.'

The Hawks don't have long to savor their first playoff win of 2011. Nineteen hours after their post-game showers, they hit the Garden ice for Game 2 of the series with Everett.

Carruth will be back between the pipes for Portland, trying to channel Tom Brady, making sure the keel stays even.