SB Nation Rival Blog: Defending Big D
Hurricanes Record: 26-23-9 | 61 pts | 6th Metro | 12th EC
Stars Record: 27-21-10 | 64 pts | 5th Central | 9th WC
Games Remaining: 24
Minimum Points Needed: 93
Points Back: 32 (1.33 points/game)
Playoff Chances (Sports Club Stats): 17.4%
Tonight the Canes and Stars face off for the first time since 2011. This will be the first game for the Stars since the Olympic break. The Canes are coming off a 3-2 loss in Buffalo on Tuesday night, and are on the second game of a five-game road trip. After this game they will head further west for games against the three California teams to wrap up a west coast swing.
The city of Dallas has not been kind to the Hurricanes, who haven't won there in regulation since they were the Hartford Whalers. In the last ten years, Dallas has a 9-0-1 home record against the Canes and a five-game home winning streak. The Stars are 5-1-0 in their last six games against the Canes, with the last Canes win coming in Raleigh on December 16, 2009.
Heading into the Olympic break, the Stars were one of the NHL's hottest teams with points in eight out of their last nine games, a push that enabled them to claim the last wild card spot in the Western Conference (note, they've been knocked down to 9th after a win by the Canucks last night). They are fighting for their first playoff appearance in five years.
The Stars' young captain Jamie Benn returned home from Sochi with both a gold medal and with the honor of scoring the only goal in Team Canada's 1-0 win over Team USA in the semi-finals. Kari Lehtonen earned a bronze medal for Team Finland, Valeri Nichushkin scored in his debut with Team Russia, and head coach Lindy Ruff added his second gold medal with Team Canada.
The Stars rank near the middle of the NHL pack in most statistical categories, slightly lower on the power play, and lower in shots allowed per game, which has been an area of recent focus and improvement. In the first 47 games of the season, the Stars averaged over 32 shots per game, but over the last 11 games before the break, they reduced that average to just over 23 shots allowed.
Tyler Seguin leads the Stars in scoring with 56 points (24g, 32a). Benn is second with 51 points and has an eight-game home point streak (6g, 7a). He also has five points in five career games against the Canes.
Erik Cole played nine seasons for the Hurricanes and Ray Whitney spent five years here, both with big contributions in the 2006 Stanley Cup championship and the run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2009 (Cole as well with the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002). They continue to contribute to the Stars' offense with 25 and 22 points respectively, and no doubt will enter tonight's game with extra incentive to put up points against their former team.
Kari Lehtonen will likely be tonight's starter. His statistics against the Hurricanes aren't impressive (6-11-1 with a 3.39 GAA), but for the season he is 22-15-10 with three shutouts and a 2.48 GAA and .916 save percentage. Another ex-Cane, Dan Ellis, is backup in net, with a 5-5-0 record and 2.94 GAA and .906 save percentage. Ellis has only faced the Canes twice in his career, but both were wins.
The Stars have a healthy roster for tonight's game. Defenseman Stephane Robidas is on injured reserve with a broken leg, but has started practicing with the team although there is no timetable for his return.
Projected line-up and other Stars notes can be found in their game preview over at [DefendingBigD].
Tuesday night's loss to the Sabres dug the hole just a wee bit deeper for the Canes' playoff picture, now five points behind both Detroit for the last wild card spot and the Flyers for the last Metro division spot.
The Canes flew out Tuesday night and held a practice in Dallas yesterday. Justin Faulk, Tuomo Ruutu, and Andrej Sekera were given a rest day. None of the forward lines changed from Tuesday's game with the exception of Elias Lindholm taking Ruutu's spot on the line with Jeff Skinner and Riley Nash.
Kirk Muller hasn't tipped his hand as to a starting goaltender. Anton Khudobin has never faced the Stars, although he certainly has familiarity with their leading scorer having been his teammate in Boston. The aforementioned former Canes have just a little knowledge of Cam Ward as well.
With another tally in Tuesday's game, Alexander Semin remains on a roll for 2014, with points in nine out of his last twelve games (9g, 3a). Per Canes stats master Brian Verdi, Sasha leads the NHL in plus/minus rating since December 31 (+14) and ranks tied for third in the league in goals (11) during that same span. He's also a point-per-game player against the Stars, as are Eric and Jordan Staal.
Michael Smith interviewed general manager Jim Rutherford to get some early perspective on the Canes' plans for the trade deadline in this week's [Tweetmail].
We'll have the game thread open and ready to roll by 8:00 pm. See you there.