Hurricanes captain Eric Staal leads the team in goals and assists and hopes to close out the Canes three-game road trip on a positive note (author's photo, Hurricanes vs. Maple Leafs, RBC Center, December 29, 2011).
Tonight the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs close out their season series at the Air Canada Centre. The teams are in 12th and 13th place respectively in the Eastern Conference, both with 75 points and nine points out of a playoff spot with six games remaining. A regulation win by one team officially eliminates the other from playoff contention, although said winner only postpones their inevitable fate by at most a couple of days.
So... when that stark reality hits a hockey team, how to remain motivated? From here out, it's all about playing for pride. For Jeff Skinner, it's about putting on a good show in front of your home town friends and family. For Tim Brent, Jay Harrison, and Jiri Tlusty, it's about showing up your former franchise. For Tuomo Ruutu, it means playing your way out of the koirankoppi and back onto a top line. For Drayson Bowman, it's solidifying a spot on an NHL roster for next season. For the defense, it's protecting your goaltender so he doesn't have to make 40+ saves just to keep you in the game. For head coach Kirk Muller, it's getting the team back to a .500 record. And for the entire team, it's about salvaging a little dignity out of a painful three-game road trip before heading back to face the home crowd for a fan appreciation weekend.
Game notes and other news after the jump.
- This is the fourth and final matchup between the two teams this season. The Hurricanes (30-31-15) won both games in Raleigh, and gained a point in an overtime loss at Toronto in December for a 2-0-1 series record.
- The Maple Leafs (33-34-9) have not won at the Air Canada Center in over a month. Their last home win was against Edmonton on February 6th. Since then, the Maple Leafs are 0-6-3 on home ice.
- Captain Eric Staal leads the Hurricanes with team highs of 23 goals and 45 assists, and has four goals and four assists in his last five games. Phil Kessel leads the Leafs and is the NHL's 5h highest scorer with 77 points. Kessel is hot on home ice, where he has scored 25 of his 36 goals.
- Justin Faulk remains strong in rookie defenseman rankings, first in average ice time (22:59), goals (8), and power play goals (5), and he is second in points (21).
- Cam Ward currently ranks second in the NHL with 1,832 saves. Number 30 has stopped 30 or more shots in eight out of his last ten games, and is 16-6-8 when making 30 or more saves.
Canes Projected Lines:
- Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Chad LaRose
- Jeff Skinner - Jussi Jokinen - Tuomo Ruutu
- Patrick Dwyer - Brandon Sutter - Drayson Bowman
- Derek Joslin - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart
- Cam Ward
- Brian Boucher
Leafs Projected Lines:
- Carter Ashton - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
- Nazem Kadri - Mikhail Grabovski - Ryan Hamilton
- Tim Connolly - Davie Steckel - Joey Crabb
- Jay Rosehill - Matthew Lombardi - Colby Armstrong
- James Mirtle/Globe and Mail: Postseason elimination just a matter of time for Leafs
- News and Observer: Canes' Harrison a nominee for NHL Award
Other Upcoming Events
- Jeff Skinner joins Mike Maniscalco on Wednesday night for Canes Corner at the Backyard Bistro, starting at 7:00 pm and broadcast on WCMC 99.9 The Fan. Anticipating bedlam, the Canes have revised their autograph policy for this event, read about it here on the Canes website: Autograph Policy Changes.
- Multiple contests are in progress this week as the Canes prepare for Fan Appreciation Week, which starts with Friday's game against the Winnipeg Jets. Learn more about planned festivities and how to win cool prizes such as the jerseys off the players' backs, and a chance to sound the hurricane siren, by visiting the Hurricanes Fan Zone Fan Appreciation page.
- The Hurricanes are holding their first ever Alumni Fantasy game on Sunday at 3:00 pm at PNC Arena. Ron Francis, Rod Brind'Amour, Glen Wesley, seven other notable Hurricanes alumni, and 30 local paid participants will lace them up for an afternoon game benefitting the Hurricanes Kids 'N Community Foundation. The event is open to the public and is free, with door donations benefitting KNCF. For more details, visit the Fan Guide at the KNCF site.
Tonight's game time is 7:00 pm and will be broadcast here on Fox Sports Carolinas in HDTV and on the radio at WCMC 99.9 The Fan. We'll have the open game thread started at 6:30 pm. See you there.