The Carolina Hurricanes (13-20-6) are in Florida this afternoon to close out 2011 with a 5pm match against the Tampa Bay Lightning (16-17-3).
Both teams have failed to live up to expectations this season, and both are coming off emotional come-from-behind victories Thursday night. Having split the 2 previous match-ups this season, both of which were played in Raleigh, the Southeast Division rivals will be looking to continue to build momentum and confidence to carry them into the upcoming 3-day break over New Years .
In the last game, the Hurricanes were led by Eric Staal in the a rousing win over the Maple Leafs in overtime, with three young forwards, Brandon Sutter, Jiri Tlusty and rookie Zac Dalpe, contributing as well. I wouldn't expect any changes to the forward lines tonight.
With Staal's 3-point game vs Toronto, he has moved to second in scoring on the team with 23 points, one behind Jeff Skinner (24 points) who has missed the last 9 games. Another milestone: tonight marks Staal's 600th game in the NHL.
The Canes have earned points in 7 of their last 10 games, going 5-3-2 since Coach Kirk Muller saw his first NHL win in Edmonton December 7th. They have won 3 of their last 4 outings. Sweet. Sitting at 14th in the Conference, with a 1% chance of making the playoffs, nothing short of miracle run (earning no less than 60 points in the remaining 43 games) would allow their season to extend past Game 82. But, sure, there's a chance.
There was no practice yesterday nor was any scheduled on the ice today, so Muller seems to be letting tired bodies recover in anticipation of a hard-fought battle tonight.
The forward lines should be:
The defensive pairings may see some adjustment. During the final period Thursday, Tim Gleason and Bryan Allen were re-united and both seemed stronger for it. However putting Jamie McBain with Jaroslav Spacek was something new and the duo both seemed a little rough as such.
The remaining pair of Justin Faulk and Jay Harrison remained together throughout and saw 23 minutes in Thursday's game.
In goal, Cam Ward is expected to get the nod, making 33 starts this season. Justin Peters will be backing up.
We haven't had any further information on the extent of Patrick Dwyer's upper body injury (incurred in the game Monday vs the Devils). Skinner apparently began some light skating this week on his own - though with no indication that he is close to being ready to play. Joni Pitkanen and Brian Boucher are still out and won't return to action anytime soon. Derek Joslin is a likely scratch.
The Bolts seem to be gaining some traction in the standings, though they still linger 6 points out of a playoff spot, tied for 12th in the East. They are 5-4-1 in their last 10, and have a 3-game win streak at home. This season they are 10-5-0 on home ice.
Steven Stamkos is putting together another strong season with 40 points, 12 of those coming in Tampa Bay's last 6 home games. Martin St Louis is back after a scary injury to his eye earlier this month. St Louis has 5 points in 4 games since returning. At 36, the veteran also made an equipment change and now wears a visor.
|2011-12 Steven Stamkos||23||17||40||10||30|
|2011-12 Martin St. Louis||10||17||27||2||6|
The Lightning defensive corps has been hampered all season by key injuries. Mattias Ohlund has yet to play this season and Victor Hedman is now sidelined - though the team hasn't identified his injury or timetable for return. Dwayne Roloson has started only 15 games, with Mathieu Garon earning more opportunities. Look for Garon tonight - making only his 4th career start against Carolina.
|2011 - 12 Mathieu Garon||25||1259||10||9||58||2.76||618||560||.906||1|
|Career vs Carolina Mathieu Garon||3||172||1||2||9||3.14||88||79||.898||1|
For more on the Lightning head over to our excellent SBN affiliate Raw Charge or for the latest from the team's hockey beat reporters, you can check in at the Tampa Bay Times or the Tampa Tribune.
Planning your afternoon
The game starts at 5pm, and will be broadcast by FSN as well as at 99.9FM on your radio. We should have our game thread open about 30 minutes prior.
- Media Notes Downloadable 38-page .pdf
- Carolina Hurricanes' challenging season has a personal side to it - Raleigh Examiner.com Peter Koutroumpis' observations about Eric Staal's struggles this season and how he has approached getting back on track.
- Bolts look to use home ice advantage, momentum to complete sweep of three-game home stand Saturday versus Hurricanes - Lightning Official Site