The Carolina Hurricanes are back in action tonight, the third outing of this five-game road swing, and the first game in a weekend pair of back-to-backs versus two Southeast division rivals. The Canes take on the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:30 tonight, and then fly up to Atlanta for a 5pm date with the Thrashers at the Philips Arena Sunday. Staying focused on the game at hand is part of the challenge.
Coming off two hard-fought, but losing, efforts the team should be feeling the pressure to [continue to] play with desperation and regain the ground that's been lost. They need to find a way to win these close ones. With the Thrashers' come-back win over the Rangers last night, Carolina is back down to 9th in the standings, below that weighty red line, this less than a week after they climbed above it when they beat the Thrashers in overtime last Saturday.
With some minor day-to-day injuries, the line up tonight is expected to feature at least two names that were not in action in Philadelphia Thursday. Joni Pitkanen, the Canes minute-munching puck-moving defenseman will return. Brett Carson, who played well in Philadelphia, has been returned to Charlotte as required because of the emergency designation of his call-up.
In addition, solid fourth-line centerman Ryan Carter is getting the day to rest his ailing back following Thursday's game, but the word is he should be good to go Sunday. Tonight, Brett Sutter has been recalled from Charlotte to make his debut in a Hurricanes jersey, and will take Carter's place centering the 4th line. He will wear #42, and we've been told that neither he nor Brandon Sutter will have a first initial added to their nameplates.
John Forslund confirmed on the twitter that Cam Ward will start for the 15th game in a row tonight. Back-up Justin Peters has not seen action since he came in to relieve Ward when the team was embarrassed in Boston January 17th. It would be natural to expect Paul Maurice would use his #2 in Atlanta tomorrow, especially with less than 24 hours between these two games, but with so much riding on the outcome, it's beginning to feel like Mo was only half-kidding when he told reporters in Newark that Ward would get his rest in July. Further, I doubt Ward is unhappy with this scenario, as he takes tremendous pride in working very hard and knowing he is trusted to carry the team.
As for the rest of us on the outside, who know the All-Star goalie has faced more shots and made more saves than anyone else in the League this season, we seem to be the only ones who get a tad anxious as we've watched the consequences of our #1 goalie being "over-worked". Time will tell.
Here's audio from Paul Maurice after the pregame skate today.
After the jump, injuries in the Bolt's camp means recalls from Norfolk for them, and other game notes.
The Lightning have had three days off since they gave up a 2-goal lead over the surging Buffalo Sabres Wednesday night. Comments in this video with Coach Guy Boucher after practice yesterday indicate his concern that the team has been stewing on that loss in which they surrendered six unanswered goals in the final 22 minutes to lose it 7-4.
Adding injury to insult, Lightning power forward Ryan Malone tore an abdominal muscle in a collision with the goal Wednesday and is thought to be out through the end of the regular season. In his place a 24-year-old Swedish-born rookie, Johan Harju, is up from Norfolk. This is the 4th time he has been recalled from the AHL affiliate this season, and apparently he feels strongly he is deserving of a more permanent slot in the NHL. He played a total of seven games with the NHL club in November and December and is listed at 6-3 and 210 pounds. Look for him to make a big impression to prove his worth. His AHL stat line shows 18 goals, 17 assists, 35 points in 40 games played, with +13 rating and 12 PIM. The word from Raw Charge editor Cassie McClellan is that he's very quick, has good hands, and knows where the net is.
Dwayne Roloson, who was the victim of the third period barrage from the Sabres Wednesday, will get the start in goal tonight. In career games against Carolina, Roloson is 4-5-0 and had GAA of 2.69 in 11 games.
Beyond Ryan Malone, the Lightning have put defensman Mike Lundin on the IR. Center Nate Thompson will also be scratched tonight with a possible concussion. Recently signed 30-year old Marc-Andre Bergeron, who joined the NHL roster last weekend, will also dress tonight for his third appearance with the team. According to Erik Erlendsson, of The Tampa Tribune, Boucher plans to dress 7 D and only 11 forwards.
|2010 - Steven Stamkos||55||40||33||73||12||54||15||0||6||192|
|2010 - Martin St. Louis||55||20||45||65||5||8||2||0||5||176|
As just another of several scheduling curiosities, the Lightning are in the midst of a crazy-long twelve-game homestand. Tonight is the 7th game of the 12; they have gone 4-2-0 so far in this set, which goes back to January 23.
Be sure to check in with the always insightful John Fontana and Cassie McClellan and the rest of the group over at our SBN partner Raw Charge for their take on tonight's action. The Tampa Tribune's Eric Erlendsson also covers the team here at his blog Bolt's Report.
Checking in with the Canes scoring leaders, Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu: Ruutu broke an 11-game goal drought with the lone Hurricanes' score in Philadelphia Thursday. Skinner had two against the Devils the game previously. Skinner was given a rough ride by the Flyers, but continued to draw penalties. He currently leads the entire league for "penalties drawn" with 28.
Staal has not scored a goal yet on this roadtrip, and it seems like he will be eager to change that trend tonight. In his career, Staal has an impressive 47 points (26g, 21a) in 43 games vs the Tampa Bay club.
|2010 - Eric Staal||55||26||28||54||-11||52||8||2||6||209|
|2010 - Jeff Skinner||55||20||23||43||-1||24||6||2||140|
|2010 - Tuomo Ruutu||55||13||29||42||-8||38||6||0||1||91|
Cam Ward is 15-9-1, with a 2.83 GAA in 26 career appearances against Tampa Bay.
Brandon Sutter will no doubt see a lot of Stamkos and St. Louis tonight. This will be his first professional game with his older cousin joining him on the bench and, while they are not likely to be on the ice together, this may be an added boost for the the Canes' top defensive forward.
With no information to the contrary, it appears the Canes will start with the following familiar lines. Whether Jussi Jokinen is close to returning is not being disclosed.
Ruutu - Skinner - Chad LaRose
Defensively, there has been a little more flexibility in pairings, but with Pitkanen back the expectations remain:
Pitkanen - Jamie McBain
The Canes gave the New Jersey Devils no opportunity to play with the man advantage Tuesday, but were called for several minors in Philadelphia. Both of the Flyers goals came on the power play, both in the third period, which might suggest the Hurricanes had lost some focus and/or discipline in what was clearly a very physical battle as the game went along.
In the last meeting with the Bolts a month ago in Raleigh, 5 of the Canes 6 goals were scored by special teams. Four on the power play (LaRose, Jokinen twice including an empty netter, and McBain) and one shorthanded by Eric Staal. Skinner had the only even strength goal. All four of the Tampa Bay goals came 5-on-5, and included two from sniper Simon Gagne. Steven Stamkos was also ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct near the end of the game.
Carolina is 13-4-1 against the Lightning in the teams’ last 18 games.
Eastern Conference playoff race
No matter how you look at it the Hurricanes are in 9th place in the standings. But the go-to site for calculating odds of making the play offs, SportsClubStats.com, which accounts for games in hand and the match-ups in each teams' remaining schedules, shows that it is Buffalo in the 8th spot while Atlanta is in 10th.
Points-wise, Atlanta has a one-point lead over Carolina in the standings.
The New York Rangers, with six consecutive losses, see their chances are dropping like a stone, but are hanging in there at 7th. The Blushirts are 3 points ahead of the Canes, but as with the Thrashers, the Canes have 2 games in hand.
The Florida Panthers have reversed course after looking like a real threat for the 8th spot a month ago, but are not eliminated by any means.
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The puck drops at 7:30 tonight. We'll have our game thread open for business at 7pm. The game will be carried by FS Carolinas and on the radio at 99.9 ESPN the Fan.