Don't look now, but the Washington Capitals are within 3 points of the Carolina Hurricanes again and they still have 2 games in hand. The Caps got their 2nd shut-out of the season last night from newly acquired goalie Christobal Huet in his first performance as a Capital. Do you think they might be fired up for their game tonight against the Leafs?
The Hurricanes have a chance to keep their distance as the Tampa Bay Lightning are in town for a contest tonight at the RBC. This will be the final game of a rather long 6 game homestand in which the Canes have gone 3-1-1 so far. During this stretch the team has played some of the best hockey that they have played all year, but at times they have also shown a glimpse of the same inconsistent bunch that they have looked like, throughout too much of the season.
To be fair, Carolina has struggled with injury and illness all year and they will continue to battle the injury bug tonight. Ray Whitney is questionable because of a "leg" injury. Tim Gleason could play, but will need to pass a neuro test in order to do so because of a head injury. Newly acquired Tuomo Ruutu will be playing with a stitched up face. Defenseman, Dennis Seidenberg could play for the first time in over a month tonight, but is still questionable because of his ankle. Bret Hedican took yesterday's practice off to rest his most recent ailment, which probably is a re-tweak of his ever-aching hip. Add these names to the long term injuries of Rod Brind'Amour, Justin William, Chad LaRose, and David Tanabe and you might think that it's a near miracle that these guys are still in first place in their division.
Give some credit to the call-ups from Albany who have provided spark, energy, and points at the most crucial times. Lord Stanley's Blog provides a well deserving tribute to the boys in this article.
Caniacs will see the new-look Lightning for the first time since the huge Brad Richards trade. Goalie Mike Smith picked up his first victory as a Bolt last night in a 3-2 win over the Maple Leafs. He will probably get the nod again tonight. Other ex-Stars, Jussi Jokinen and Jeff Halpern each picked up assists. Of course Richards had a huge night for Dallas in his first game and tied a record by earning 5 assists.
Tonight could be a very important one for Lightning coach John Tortorella. With a win tonight, "Torts" will have more wins than any other American born coach in NHL history. Currently, he is tied with Bob Johnson with 234 wins. Carolina coach Peter Laviolette isn't too far behind this group himself. In any event, this is one record that most Caniacs would not like to see happen on Carolina's home ice.
Look for the home team's lines to be the same as the past few games, (depending upon injuries), and for Cam Ward to be in net. This will not be an easy game, regardless of the standings. Carolina needs to take advantage of the fact that the Lightning played last night, and they certainly can not afford to take 20 minutes or more off. If they skate hard for 60 solid minutes, they should be able to keep Washington a couple of games back in the rear view mirror.
Gametime is at 7 tonight and it will be broadcast locally on FSN.