Over the past year, the Carolina-Ottawa series has had many interesting subplots: Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves meeting their old team; the Brothers Ruutu going head to head; now-departed Sens goalie Martin Gerber facing the team he won a Cup with. But all those themes take a back seat tonight as two the league's hottest teams meet in Raleigh with the same mindset. Make the playoffs.
For the Hurricanes, the prospects are looking brighter and brighter each day. Riding an eight-game home winning streak and playing perhaps their best hockey of the season, Carolina currently sits fifth in the Eastern Conference with seven games remaining.
For the answer to how did a Carolina team on the playoff bubble suddenly got so hot, you need to look no further than Cam Ward, who will likely start his 23rd straight game tonight. The 25-year-old goalie has exhibited why the organization has so much faith in his talent — his recent steady level of exceptional play not seen since the team's run to the 2006 Stanley Cup.
Also returning to past form is center Rod Brind'Amour. After struggling for more than half the season, the captain has turned his year around with the reliable two-way game that made him a premier player throughout his career. In the past two games, Brind'Amour is plus-4 with a goal and two assists, and he is plus-7 and has five goals and eight assists in 11 the games this March.
Throw in the play of Eric Staal (7-10-17 this month), Erik Cole (2-8-10 in 10 games since his return to Carolina) and Anton Babchuk (4-3-7, plus-10 in his past 11), and it's easy to see why the Canes are having success. The Canes will again be without Matt Cullen, who will miss his second straight game due to a foot injury.
As for the Sens, they've reeled off five straight wins and nine of 10, led by a scoring resurgence and the goaltending of Brian Elliott. While new coach Cory Clouston hasn't named his starter for tonight, you have to figure Elliott — who is on an eight-game winning streak — will get the nod despite Alex Auld's 2-1 win over the Rangers Sunday in Ottawa's last game.
The Senators top guns have been hot of late. Captain Daniel Alfredsson (seven points in his last four games), Jason Spezza (nine points in the past six) and Chris Neil (four points in the past five) have led the charge, while the always-dangerous Dany Heatley could break out any game. Ottawa should also get back shot-blocking king Anton Volchenkov, who missed Sunday's game with a "lower body" injury.
Tonight's game starts at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on FS-CR and 99.9 The Fan.
- Power Play: Carolina 20th overall (17.6 percent), 23rd at home (16.5) • Ottawa 17th overall (19.1), 23rd on the road (15.0)
- Penalty Kill: Carolina 23rd overall (79.2), 23rd at home (79.2) • Ottawa 16th overall (81.3), 7th on the road (82.5)
- The Senators have the league's best winning percentage when leading after one period (86.7; Carolina is 23rd at 64.3). But Ottawa ranks 25th when leading after two periods (80.0) and Carolina 21st (85.3).
- The Sens have the league's worst winning percentage when they are outshot by their opponents (25.8). Carolina is tied for sixth when outshot (60.0).
- The Hurricanes continue to be the league's least penalized team (9.9 minutes per game), while Ottawa is in the middle of the pack (14th, 13.6 per game). Both are near the bottom of the league in major penalties. Carolina has 25 (second fewest to Detroit's 11), while the Senators have the fourth fewest (29).
- The Canes are second in the league in missed shots (992), while the Sens have the second fewest misses (745).
- Ray Whitney (24-44-68) is tied for 23rd in scoring with Dallas' Mike Ribiero, while Staal ranks tied for 28th with 34 goals and 32 assists, the same as Ottawa's Heatley (their 34 goals ties them with Columbus' Rick Nash for ninth in the league). Detroit's Marian Hossa also has 66 points (37-39-66). Alfredsson is the top scorer in tonight's game with 71 points (23-48-71, T-17th).
- Staal is tied for seventh in NHL in game-winning goals with eight. Joe Corvo is tied for 13th with six, best among all defensemen.
- Staal's 346 shots trail only Washington's Alex Ovechkin (475). Heatley is tied for 29th with 221.
- Joni Pitkanen (T-15th, 24:51) and Joe Corvo (23rd, 24:21) are among the NHL's ice time leaders. Filip Kuba (38th, 23:22) leads the Senators.
- Corvo's 14 goals are tied for sixth among NHL d-men. Babchuk's 12 ranks him tied for 11th. Corvo's eight PPGs are tied for seventh among blueliners, while Babchuk's six are good for a tie for 12th. Ottawa's Alexandre Picard (six) and Brendan Bell (five) are among the league's top 30 despite playing just 47 and 43 games, respectively.
- Anton Babchuk has moved into a tied for 23rd among defensemen in plus/minus (plus-13). That is the best on Carolina (Cullen plus-11, Pitkanen and Staal plus-10).
- The Canes have seven forwards with 37 points or more (though among them is Cullen, who will not play). After Alfredsson (71), Heatley (66) and Spezza (64), Ottawa's next best point-producer is Kuba (33), and the next best at forward are Mike Fisher (29) and Nick Foligno (27).
- Jarkko Ruutu is 29th in the NHL in PIMs with 125.
- Time for some Cam Ward stats: His 33 wins tie him for third with the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist. Ward has now played 62 games, fifth most in the NHL. His 2.50 GAA is tied for 14th overall and is tied for sixth among goalies with at least 50 starts. Ward's .914 save percentage ranks tied for 16th, but again tied for sixth among the 50-plus game crowd. Ward has a career-high five shutouts, tied for eighth in the NHL.