Jordan Staal finally returns to Pittsburgh in the season finale for the Carolina Hurricanes. With nothing but pride to play for, how will the season's final game play out?
Carolina Hurricanes at Pittsburgh Penguins
April 27, 2013 - 7:30 pm ET
CONSOL Energy Center - Pittsburgh, PA
TV - Fox Sports Carolinas Radio - 99.9 The Fan
SB Nation Capitals Blog: Pensburgh (twitter @Pensburgh)
Hurricanes Record: 19-24-4 (42 pts, 3rd in Southeast Division, Golf Course Bound)
Penguins Record: 35-12-0 (70 pts, 1st in Atlantic Division, Playoff Bound)
Well, this is it! The conclusion to the 2013 NHL season. The Hurricanes at one point this season were sitting in 1st place in the Southeast Division, but injuries, poor play and some bad puck luck took them out of Playoff contention. They finish up with the top team in the Eastern Conference, who has experienced their share of injuries too, but they have been able to weather the storm and are looking to get some players back. This will be the third game this year between Pittsburgh and Carolina, so far they have split the two decisions in Raleigh.
The Canes enter the game with points in the last three games, the latest a 4-3 overtime loss to the Rangers. It was a good game between the two teams and Carolina probably deserved better than the OT loss, but a late 3rd period kick in by Dan Ellis tied the game and the one and only shot by the Rangers in overtime found it's way to the back of the net. Carolina currently sits in 25th place in the NHL, good for the #6 overall pick in the NHL Draft (not counting the lottery results). With a win, that pick could move to 7th overall, with a regulation loss it will be somewhere between 3rd and 5th (again, not counting the lottery results). So this game does have some meaning for the Canes.
The lineup should look very similar to the Rangers game with the only difference being on the blueline. Jay Harrison (face) took a puck to the face and will not play. Joe Corvo (upper body) was held out of the New York game, but could return today against Pittsburgh. Alexander Semin (concussion), Joni Pitkanen (heel), Tim Brent (lower body), Drayson Bowman (upper body) and Cam Ward (knee) will definitely be out. The Canes have used 38 different players this season, tied for 1st in the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Jiri Tlusty, Eric Staal and Tuomo Ruutu are all on point streaks for Carolina. Tlusty has points in seven straight (6g, 4a). He is also tied for 5th in the NHL in goals with 23 on the season. Eric Staal is currently tied for 8th in the league in assists and tied for 6th in points. If Staal stays in the top 10, it will mark only the 3rd time a Hurricane has finished the season in the top 10 in the league in points. Eric is also a point-per-game player lifetime against the Penguins with 34 points in 33 games. But I'm sure the big question of the night among Canes Country readers will be, is this Chad LaRose's last game in a Hurricanes sweater?
Pittsburgh enters the game having lost two in a row, but they haven't had a lot to play for either. They have a nine point lead over the Boston Bruins for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and have been trying to get healthy for the Playoffs. James Neal and Paul Martin will return tonight for the Penguins. Sidney Crosby (jaw), Brooks Orpik (lower body) and Joe Vitale (lower body) will be out. But even with the injuries, the Penguins boost one of the most impressive rosters in hockey. For more on the Penguins, check out Pensburgh for a Pittsburgh point-of-view.
For the Penguins, Crosby and Chris Kunitz are in the NHL top 10 in points on the season. Crosby is actually tied for 2nd despite only playing in 36 games. Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis are in the top 10 in goals and Dupuis leads the league in +/- at +30. Evgeni Malkin hasn't had the MVP performance of last season, but he is still a point-per-game player and has 24 points in 21 career games against Carolina. Jerome Iginla is also a ppg guy in his career against the Canes with 17 points in 17 games. But the men of the hour for Canes fans have to be Brandon Sutter and Jussi Jokinen. Sutter has been a solid replacement for Jordan Staal in Pittsburgh. He doesn't quite have the same offensive abilites, but has put up 11 goals and 18 points on the season. Now Jokinen has been a completely different story for the Penguins. While only averaging a little over 15 minutes a game, Jussi has netted 5 goals and 4 assists in 9 games for his new team. The things that weren't happening in Carolina are now in Pittsburgh.