The Hurricanes start a four-game road trip Saturday afternoon in Boston, meeting the Eastern Conference's top team for the first time this season.
Carolina is coming off a 2-1 overtime victory vs. division rival Florida Thursday, giving them two consecutive wins and points in six straight (3-0-3). The recent run has put the Canes back into eighth place in the conference with 35 points, leading Buffalo (33 points, with one game in hand) and the Panthers (32, one game in hand) for the final playoff slot.
With Brett Carson reassigned to Albany, Anton Babchuk will be reinserted into the lineup. That should be the only lineup change for the Canes. That leaves just Nic Wallin injured for Carolina.
The Bruins also notched another win Thursday, beating Toronto 8-5 in a game that saw three goalie changes. Manny Fernandez earned the win for Boston after replacing Tim Thomas, while Vesa Toskala struggled for the Maple Leafs and was pulled, only to be reinserted for Curtis Joseph later in the game. The Bruins have won eight of their last nine and have only two losses and one extra-time defeat in their past 20.
With 48 points (22-5-4), the B's — through Thursday's games — are tops in the East and have scored more goals (114) than any team in league while allowing just 72 (only Minnesota, with 69, has allowed fewer).
Boston is led by behemoth blueliner and captain Zdeno Chara, assist machine Marc Savard and young sniper Phil Kessel. But the star of Beantown — and perhaps the entire league — has been Thomas, who may finally have convinced all his doubters that he's an elite, Vezina-level netminder. At 13-3-3, Thomas has been nearly unbeatable most nights. Fernandez — the team's No. 1B — has been as good, going 9-2-1. According to the Boston Globe's depth chart, Fernandez was the top guy in practice Friday, so it looks like Carolina could face him. Also, winger Marco Sturm will not play after suffering an injury vs. Toronto, and ex-Cane Aaron Ward and Petteri Nokelainen are out.
A game against Boston also offers up a chance to see rugged throwback Milan Lucic, who leads the NHL in hits and has Bruins fans thinking they have found Cam Neely Jr. Surely, the B's fans and Lucic also remember Tim Gleason.
Kessel is perhaps the NHL's hottest player, registering points in 16 straight games and ranking third in the league in goals with 21. Savard is fourth in the NHL scoring with 38 points, and rookie Blake Wheeler is fifth among all first-year players with nine goals and nine assists.
But the Canes have fared well against the Bruins recently, going 3-0-1 vs. Boston last season. The team also has points in all six of their games vs. the Northeast Division (5-0-1) this year.
And there are some players finding their groove.
Although pointless against Florida, Eric Staal has re-emerged as a threat every shift and has six points in the last four games. He also has a history of lighting up the Bruins, scoring nine goals and adding 12 assists in 16 career games against the B's, all while registering a gaudy plus-16 in those games.
Captain Rod Brind'Amour has assists in five straight and also has a good past against Boston, with 19 goals and 32 assists in 63 career games.
Defenseman Joe Corvo has gotten the game-winning goal in back-to-back outings — the first blueliner in franchise history to notch the clincher in two straight. But perhaps most importantly, goalie Cam Ward has been rock solid since returning from a groin injury, allowing five goals in three games and helping the Canes earn five points in that stretch. He's also had Boston's number over his career, going 6-1-0-2.
The game begins at 1 p.m. and will be broadcast on FSC and 99.9 The Fan.