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Tampa Bay Lightning at Carolina Hurricanes: 181 days in the making

181 days.

That's the count since the Carolina Hurricanes were poised to enter the NHL's 2011 Postseason last April 9, hoping to make an inspired run, just like they had the last couple times they'd made the cut, back in 2009 and before that, 2006.

April 9th was Game 82 of the 2010-11 regular season. Carolina controlled its own destiny knowing the mission was simple: "win and you're in".

No one here forgets how quickly the plan unraveled 

Now, six months later, the stage is set for the re-match. The puck drops at 7pm, a full lineup of pre-game activities starts at 5pm. With perfect weather, our famous tailgaters should be filling the RBC Center parking lot and the party in full swing long before the band takes the stage. At 6:45pm, the party moves inside with on-ice ceremonies celebrating the lives and contributions of those in the Canes family who were lost over the summer.

For the Hurricanes players, the adrenaline will be no doubt flowing and the motivation strong. This season's Game 1 has a palpable connection straight back to last April's Game 82. They came so close, but they couldn't get it done. They've had 181 days to think about it. Tonight they bring their response.

That was then, this is now

Neither the Hurricanes nor the Lightning made any blockbuster moves in the off-season. The Canes have a couple new faces who have joined the coaching staff, though in Rod Brind`Amour 's case it's a familiar face in an unfamiliar suit and tie. Defensive-minded assistant Coach Dave Lewis is getting rave reviews, but  will be out of town for his daughter's wedding, previously scheduled for this weekend.

The biggest signing Jim Rutherford accomplished since April was the return of Joni Pitkanen, with another three year contract. The announcement that veteran All-Star Tomas Kaberle had been signed on July 5 was easily the biggest jaw-dropper this summer in Raleigh, when Joe Corvo was relocated to a more northern clime.

The names and faces of rookies Zac Dalpe, Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy have quickly become familiar to hockey fans in Raleigh. Anthony Stewart, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Tim Brent and Brian Boucher are also newcomers to North Carolina, and seem to be making themselves at home. 


What has the Bolts' GM been up to since we last encountered Steve Yzerman's club in these parts?


Tampa Bay building on momentum

The Lightning were the Cinderella team of the 2011 playoffs, making their first appearance since 2007. The Bolts overcame an 0-2 deficit before taking out the Pittsburgh Penguins in 7 games, following it up with a 4-game sweep that humiliated the Washington Capitals,  which got the Lightning to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Tampa Bay went head-to-head with the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins, battling through a tense Game 7, coming up just short in the 1-0 loss. Even with the defeat, the credibility of Florida hockey got a desperately needed boost.

On the business side, the biggest announcement was about maintaining the status quo with the re-signing of RFA Superstar Steven Stamkos. Similarly, Yzerman and company decided to stick with aging netminder Dwayne Roloson and brought in Mathieu Garon in a supporting role. Roloson will get the start in tonight's game.

A few depth players including Ryan Shannon and Tom Pyatt came aboard and will bring some hustle to the bottom 6, while Vincent Lecavalier, Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, are matched up with crease crasher Ryan Malone and rehabilitated bad boy Steve Downie in the top half of the forwards. 

Keep your eyes on #14, winger Brett Connolly, who was selected 6th in the 2010 draft, right before Jeff Skinner. He'll be making his NHL debut having signed an entry level contract in July. He's on the 9-game tryout plan, and there's no consensus yet whether he'll remain in Tampa or be back in the WHL in a few weeks time.

Here's a likely breakdown of the forward lines Coach Guy Boucher will have out for his teams opening night of the season.

Martin St. Louis - Steven Stamkos - Steve Downie
Ryan Malone - Vincent Lecavalier - Teddy Purcell
Brett Connolly - Dominic Moore - Ryan Shannon
Adam Hall - Nate Thompson - Tom Pyatt*


Turning to the Bolts' Blueliners, Mattias Ohlund is on the IR which scrambles the pairings a bit. Big Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman, 20, begins his third NHL season tonight. At the other end, Matt Gilroy, 27,  is small speedy defenseman who, undrafted, bounced around the New York Rangers system for a couple years before he signed with the Lightning this summer.

Victor Hedman - Eric Brewer
Marc-Andre Bergeron - Pavel Kubina
Brett Clark - Matt Gilroy



A story from yesterday's Tampa Tribune spotlight's the maturation of Steven Stamkos in last year's playoff run. Great read about what was happening behind the scenes last spring. Stamkos eager to put education to use | It also explains that the Bolts are headed to Boston for a rematch of the Eastern Final tomorrow night , certainly a big game for them to exact some revenge. 

Carolina opening night roster


For the Hurricanes lineup, Coach Paul Maurice has been mixing and matching as the influx of new players struggled to find the desired scoring touch in the six games of the preseason. Paul Maurice spoke to the media after practice Thursday to clarify his expectations from the new lineup which you can hear in this 8 minute audio.

When all is said and done, Carolina's forward lines that will open tonight's game and the 2011-12 season will look like this:

Jeff Skinner - Eric Staal - Tuomo Ruutu-
Jiri Tlusty - Jussi Jokinen - Chad LaRose
Patrick Dwyer - Brandon Sutter - Alexei Ponikarovsky
Zac Dalpe - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart


Bob took a good luck at these combinations in his post yesterday: Chemistry Class: Will Carolina's New Lines Get The Job Done? 

For the defense, we should expect

Joni Pitkanen - Tim Gleason
Tomas Kaberle - Justin Faulk
Bryan Allen - Jay Harrison


Cam Ward will be the starter in goal. 

Scratches: Derek Joslin, Jamie McBain, and Ryan Murphy.

This will be Justin Faulk's first regular season NHL start after playing all 6 games in the preseason and 13 post season games with Charlotte last spring. Ryan Murphy, the Canes 1st round pick in June will be watching as a healthy scratch from above.

The Hurricanes are playing the first half of a back-to-back tonight with a match vs the Capitals in the Verizon Center Saturday night. They then head up to New Jersey where they play a matinee vs the Devils at 1pm Monday. With three games in less than 72 hours, don't be surprised to see all 9 defensemen get a game. Not to mention Brian Boucher getting an early outing (as a former Flyer, my bet's on him making his Canes' debut on  Monday in Newark).


A few statistics drawn from the history between these two teams:

Cam Ward is 16-11-2, with a 2.93 GAA in 30 career appearances against Tampa Bay. Brian Boucher is 7-6-1, with a 2.76 GAA in 15 career appearances against the Lightning.

Dwayne Roloson is 5-6-0 with a 2.83 GAA in 13 career games against Carolina. Mathieu Garon: 1-2-0, 3.14 GAA in 3 games

CAR career point-per-game players vs. TB: Jeff Skinner - 6 pts (3g, 3a) in 6 games; Eric Staal - 53 pts (29g, 24a) in 47 games.

TB career point-per-game players vs. CAR: Vincent Lecavalier - 72 pts (30g, 42a) in 72 games; Martin St. Louis - 69 pts (34g, 35a) in 62 career games.



If you're not able to make the game tonight, you'll get to enjoy the new program schedule that FoxSportsCarolina will be offering this season as Bob Harwood, a veteran of Versus' coverage will become a regular in Raleigh working with John Forslund and Tripp Tracy. Harwood will host a 30-minute preview program on gamenights. Here's what Forslund told us to expect. Twitter / @JohnForslund: 

Caniacs, join me in welcoming Bob Harwood to our shows. He'll do a great job with Hurricanes Live pre/post. It all starts at 630 et tonight..

Guests tonight include PK, JR, the Captain and @odognine2. Justin Faulk's mom might make an appearence too! #goodstuff

For the uninitiated, @odognine2 would be the one and only Jeff O'Neill's twitter handle.

As always, the game will also be broadcast on the radio at 99.9 the Fan, with Chuck Kaiton on the call, Mike Maniscalco doing the pre- and post-game analysis and interviews.

Canes Country will have our open thread ready to go at 6:30 tonight, so please come by to share some Carolina camaraderie at our virtual viewing party. Everybody's welcome! Brian LeBlanc and Bob Wage will add commentary as they watch the game live from the RBC pressbox.


Other Links

For more coverage, see the links on this page Lightning vs Hurricanes coverage or over at our colleagues in the SBN Network, the very fine Raw Charge

This morning's Clicks and Clippings also has a full set of links.


*** UPDATES following practice





Tampa Bay did not skate this morning.