Hurricanes Record: 15-10-1 (31 pts.)
Lightning Record: 11-15-1 (23 pts.)
Tonight the Hurricanes play their third of five regular season games against the Lightning and the first at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. So far the Lightning hold the upper hand with dominating wins in the previous two match-ups in Raleigh, winning 4-1 in the Hurricanes home opener on January 22, and following that up with a 5-2 win on February 23.
Both teams come into tonight's game with disappointing home performances Thursday night. The Hurricanes gave up a two-goal lead in a 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, and the Lightning were shut out by the Islanders 2-0.
As the Hurricanes left Raleigh yesterday for a quick two-game road trip, the big story centered around two passengers on the team plane. Both Joni Pitkanen and Tuomo Ruutu practiced with the team Friday and traveled on the road trip. Pitkanen has been sidelined for 13 out of 26 games this season with a groin injury but is expected to be in the lineup tonight. If he plays, he provides stability on defense and a much-needed boost to the power play. Pitkanen was also leading the team in TOI/game before his injury. For Ruutu, who has missed the entire season following hip surgery, his mere presence with the team provides an emotional uplift, but his return to the lineup should mean stability in the top six forward ranks and a big physical presence (aka body in front of the net on the power play). While his return may not be as clear, his recovery appears to be well ahead of schedule.
Note: There were several accounts yesterday of Pitkanen's and Ruutu's status... audio from head coach Kirk Muller after practice, Michael Smith's article on the Canes website and comments on twitter, and a news update from WRAL which included quotes from general manager Jim Rutherford. The WRAL quotes are the least optimistic: Pitkanen likely to play tonight, Ruutu a few more days away.
(Another note: Just a personal observation, I watched the Canes practice yesterday, Ruutu looks good on the ice, seems to be moving, skating, and shooting well, but still in "preseason" game condition IMO. Here are few photos of Ruutu at RCI from my flickr site).
Alexander Semin and Bobby Sanguinetti (who took a hard hit from Joey Crabb in Thursday's game) did not practice with the team Friday. According to Muller, they both had a maintenance day and are good to go tonight. Chad LaRose (concussion) remains off the ice and out of the lineup.
No starting goaltender has been announced. Both Justin Peters and Dan Ellis gave up 5 goals in their last games against the Lightning (Peters in December 2010 in his only appearance and Ellis on February 23rd). The current goalie rotation would presume Pete Dawg tonight and Ellis versus the Rangers on Monday, but nothing will be known for certain until after today's morning skate.
As previously mentioned, the Lightning have lost their last four games at home, the latest loss a 2-0 shutout at the hands of the New York Islanders in a game where the Tampa Bay offense was only able to generate 18 shots. It was the first time the Lighting had been shut out since February 2012.
The big story for the Lightning is the recent loss of captain Vincent Lecavalier, who sustained a lower body injury in a game against the Panthers on Tuesday night and missed his first game on Thursday. He has been placed on IR and there is no timetable for his return.
The Lightning held a "very optional" skate yesterday, with only a few players participating. Among the skaters were forwards Benoit Pouliot and Tom Pyatt, who have been out with injuries. There is a strong possibility that Pyatt (who has scored two goals against the Canes this season) could return to the lineup tonight, but Pouliot's return is further out.
Forward Adam Hall was placed on waivers Friday morning; his status won't be known until noon today.
Yesterday head coach Guy Boucher announced that Mathieu Garon will be starting in net tonight. While primary netminder Anders Lindback has been strong in net, he is in need of a break. Garon has nine starts this season but only two wins. Those two wins... you guessed it... have been against the Hurricanes.
The Lightning's season has been a frustrating one, but one thing is for certain, they've had the Hurricanes number. With winning two straight versus the Canes this season, but losing the last four games at home, one of those streaks will be over tonight.
We'll start the game thread at 6:30 pm. See you there.