Hurricanes forward Tuomo Ruutu tips in a shot from defenseman Jay Harrison for a rare overtime win against the Ottawa Senators in Raleigh on December 23, 2011 (author's photo).
The Hurricanes (31-32-16, 78 pts.) were officially eliminated from playoff contention with Friday's 4-3 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets, and suffered a lackluster follow-up performance Saturday in a 5-0 shutout loss against the New Jersey Devils. With three games remaining, the opportunity to close out the season on a positive note begins today.
Meanwhile, with weekend wins over the Flyers and Islanders, the Senators (41-28-10, 92 pts.) have clinched a playoff berth, although they still have an opportunity to climb up in the Eastern Conference standings if they continue to win their remaining games.
Game notes follow, along with a tip of the hat to a great outing on Sunday at the inaugural Hurricanes Alumni Fantasy Game.
Hurricanes vs. Senators Game Notes
- This is the fourth and final meeting between the two teams. Ottawa won the first two games, Carolina won the last game, which was played on December 23rd in Raleigh.
- Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray is "pleasantly surprised" at the Senators playoff spot, as he reported to the Ottawa Citizen on Monday (link).
- Forwards Kyle Turris and Milan Michalek are on hot streaks for the Senators, with Turris posting 4 goals and 4 assists in his last four games, while Michalek has 3 goals and 5 assists in his last five games. Goaltender Craig Anderson has a .934 save percentage in his last four starts, all wins.
- Daniel Alfredsson (illness) and Jason Spezza (with family for the birth of a child) did not play Sunday. The Senators have not confirmed their status for tonight's game. Jaroslav Spacek (lower body) and Andreas Nodl (concussion-like symptoms) remain out for the Canes.
- There are no projected line-up changes for the Hurricanes. Cam Ward is expected to get the start in net.
- Canes are not holding a pre-game skate or media availability this morning. Kirk Muller met with the media yesterday before the team left for Ottawa, and his response when asked what he expected from the team over the next three games was "three wins." Kirk Muller Audio
Tonight's game will be broadcast on the normal Hurricanes channels, Fox Sports Carolinas in HDTV, and radio on WCMC 99.9 The Fan. Game time is 7:30 pm, and we'll have the game thread open at 7:00 (promise). See you there.
Alumni Fantasy Game Recap
Shane Willis makin' it rain as he blasts a shot past Tripp Tracy (author's photo).
The Hurricanes held an entertaining Alumni Fantasy Game at PNC Arena on Sunday afternoon. Ten Hurricanes alumni, including legends Ron Francis, Glen Wesley, and Rod Brind'Amour, skated along with 30 paying fantasy participants in a full game experience. The player roster can be found here.
Event proceeds benefitted the Hurricanes Kids 'N Community Foundation. Admission was free for fans, and over 3,000 made their way to the game. Arena staff had to open additional seating sections after the East Priority area overflowed. Fans brought signs, chants, cheers, and over $11,000 in door donations to KNCF. All in all, the event raised just over $50,000 between donations, player registration, and silent auction sales.
A sign in the arena said "Make it Rain, Shane." Shane Willis wasn't showered by hats when he tallied three goals in Sunday's game, but he certainly deserved a tip of the hat for his efforts both on and off the ice. Willis, who serves as the Hurricanes youth and amateur hockey coordinator, led much of the planning and organization for the inaugural event in addition to playing in the game and torching three shots past the glove of Hurricanes TV analyst Tripp Tracy.
The Hurricanes organization took tremendous efforts to make the experience as game-like as possible for fantasy participants with CanesVision production, in-game entertainment, anthem by Katherine Fritsch, and player introductions and game play-by-play by John Forslund. As usual, there was none better than Forslund as he not only called every second of the action, but also provided color commentary on all the players (along with his usual witty commentary on the game action). TV partner Tripp Tracy was in net for the White team. Tracy was mic'ed up for the last five minutes of each period, which gave Forslund ample opportunity to check in with pressing questions about Tripp's hydration level and the status of his groin.
Back-stopped by the aforementioned Tracy and led by the offensive prowess of Jesse Boulerice (who had a hat trick himself), the White team (led by Captain Rod Brind'Amour and coach Dave Lewis) jumped out to an early lead over the Red team (led by Captain Ron Francis and coach John MacLean) and the score was 7-1 after 40 minutes. A late rally by the Red team brought the score close, and toward the end of the game John MacLean emptied the bench and sent the whole team out on the attack, but Tracy and the White team defended the onslaught and held on for a 9-6 win.
And for the can't miss highlight of the game... late in the game as the Red team launched its comeback, and while his family (including son Eric) and fans watched, elder statesman Henry Staal ripped a shot into the net and launched a goal celebration for the ages, arms raised as he sailed across the entire length of the ice before leaping into the glass. If you ever wondered where his son got his intensity and compete level, wonder no more (here's the gif file).
My photo album for the event can be found here (warning, this is a BIG album, I tried to get shots of as many participants as I could).
For the participants, hearing their names announced as they skated onto the ice to the cheers from the crowd, then playing alongside some of the biggest legends in Hurricanes history, made for the thrill of a lifetime. Given the success and interest, it's certainly hoped that this event can become an annual tradition.