While previous games in February have been appropriately labeled as "big games", the one tonight in Raleigh should be considered "humongous". The Buffalo Sabres invade the RBC to tackle the Hurricanes in another (four point swing game) with playoff implications. The Sabres are currently in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, just one point ahead of Carolina. They also have a game in hand.
Buffalo comes to town missing two of their superstar players, Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek, both of whom are recovering from injuries. To make matters worse for them, backup goalie Patrick Lalime has been suffering from the flu and might not play tonight. If Lalime can not play, (he made the trip to Raleigh), then rookie Jhonas Enroth will get the nod and he has yet to play in a single NHL game.
UPDATE- Lalime took the morning skate and will start tonight.
Do things sound dire for the Sabres? They might, but regardless, do not underestimate them.
Keep in mind that this game is almost as important to them as it is to the Hurricanes and they might just react to their situation with an "us against the world" perspective. Love him or hate him, coach Lindy Ruff is a master of motivation and you can be sure that he will have his team ready to play. They could rally around their ailing goaltender and play the game of their lives.
Both teams are coming off loses. Buffalo recently dropped a home tilt to the Anaheim Ducks while the Canes played an atrocious first period while losing to Ottawa on Tuesday night.
The teams met twice so far this year, with each of them having won a game. They split the series 2-2 last year.
The Hurricanes will be looking to plug the huge, gaping holes they allowed against Ottawa on Tuesday. For some reason, the early season odd-man rushes and open opportunities in their own end came back to haunt them.
Jussi Jokinen has the longest scoring streak currently for the team and has points in the last three games. Joni Pitkanen and Anton Babchuk have eached scored in two straight. Needless to say, some of Carolina's big guns will most likely have to start producing again if the team wants to continue to be successful.
Frank Kaberle will replace Nic Wallin on the backend and Scott Walker is close, but will not play tonight. Look for these lines:
- Staal, Samsonov, Ruutu
- Cullen, Whitney, LaRose
- Brind'Amour, Eaves, Ryan
- Jokinen, Bayda, Conboy
- Corvo, Gleason
- Babchuk, Pitkanen
- Kaberle, Seidenberg
Once again, Cam Ward will start out in net, making it nine starts in a row for him.
Again, not to over-emphasis the importance of this game, but the Hurricanes must start winning these head-to-head match ups with the teams they are directly fighting for to make the playoffs. If they lose to a depleted Buffalo team tonight, will they have the confidence to win the next important game coming up?
The contest will be shown on local television by FS Carolinas starting at 7. We will have the "Live Game Thread" up and running at 6:45.
Which team wants this one the most?