The Canes rallied last night to earn a much-needed point against the Chicago Blackhawks, but in the end rookie-of-the-year candidate Kris Versteeg added the shootout winner to his earlier goal to deny Carolina the extra point. Tonight, Carolina travels to Dallas to face the injury-depleted Stars — and another Calder Trophy possibility.
The Stars have lost eight of 10 and scored just seven goals in their last six home games — all losses. While netminder Marty Turco has turned around his season after floundering early in the year, Dallas is short on the star power that has defined them in recent seasons. Brendan Morrow was lost for the year early on, while Sergei Zubov and Brad Richards are both out long term. Jere Lehtinen and Fabian Brunnstrom will likely miss the game, as well. Same for Mark Parrish ... here's why:
The Stars — who at 31-28-8 sit 10th in the Western Conference, just one point out of a tie for seventh — still have skill up front, with Mike Riberio and Loui Eriksson leading the way, along with aging but still effective Mike Modano. But keep an eye on James Neal. The first-year power forward is second on the team in goals (22 to Eriksson's 32) and trails only Anaheim's Bobby Ryan (23 goals) among rookies.
As for the Hurricanes, Wednesday's loss to Chicago looks disappointing on paper but had to be rewarding. Tuomo Ruutu scored with 27 seconds remaining in regulation to earn the Canes a point, plus the reborn Rod Brind'Amour scored for the third-straight game and has a four-game point streak. His play has given Carolina the three-line attack that made them successful in years past, and he's also been vastly improved defensively.
Let's not forget Cam Ward. The Hurricanes netminder was brilliant throughout Wednesday's game — though he struggled some in the shootout — and has allowed just eight goals (three of which were in the 9-3 stomping of Tampa Bay) in Carolina's past five games (4-0-1). That includes two 41-save performances and a big 28-save shutout against playoff combatant New York.
The big question is if coach Paul Maurice will give Ward the night off on the second half of a back-to-back — a situation the team's surprisingly thrived in all season — and play Michael Leighton, or ride his starter, who hasn't had a rest game since Feb. 9. We'll try and update the goalie situation during the day. (Update: He's going again. See below.)
Some tidbits ...
- Sergei Samsonov, who set up Brind'Amour with a beautiful pass for the Canes' first goal last night, is riding a four-game point streak.
- Ruutu has quietly scored goals in three straight, and you know he loved burying the game-tying tally late against his old team.
- Patrick Eaves and Ruutu both took some careless penalties last night — a trend that has popped up for a few of the forwards in the past couple nights. Carolina's penalty kill has been great of late, but one of their best assets many nights is their ability to stay out of the box.
- Joni Pitkanen left last night's game after taking a hard hit. He's out. See below.
- With Pitkanen out and the team down to five defensemen, Tim Gleason played 24:24 and looked no worse for wear. That's the most ice time he's had since he played 27:36 against San Jose Feb. 5.
- Although he was minus-1 last night, Anton Babchuk continues to play well. He's plus-15 since Jan. 15 (a 25-game span) and has 13 points (5-8-13) in that stretch.
- Jussi Jokinen returned to the lineup after missing time to return to Finland following the death of his father. He played just 6:42, but expect a bump in ice time tonight, especially if Eaves continues to take penalties (three minors in the past two games).
- Ribiero is 22nd in the NHL in scoring with 63 points (18-45).
- Eriksson's 32 goals tie him with Eric Staal, Dany Heatley and Rick Nash for ninth in the league. His previous best goal total was 14 last season.
- Staal has three goals in three career games against the Stars. Modano has 32 career points against the Canes (16-16-32 in 28 games).
- Turco is 1-3 with an .882 save percentage and 2.59 goals-against average in five career starts against Carolina.
- Dallas ranks tied for 24th in goals allowed with 3.03 given up per game.
- The Stars power play is ranked 23rd (16.1 percent), while Carolina is 20th (16.9). At home, the Stars rank 17th (18.2) while Carolina is 14th on the road (18.6).
- The Canes hold the edge in penalty kill as well (19th, 80.2 to Dallas' 79.7, which is 21st). The Stars are slightly better at home (80.4, 17th) and the Canes have killed 80.4 percent on the road (16th).
- The Stars are among the best teams at holding an early lead. They have won 85 percent of the games they have led after one period (third in the league).