Friday, Feb 25, 2011, 7:00 PM EST
The Canes close out their longest homestand of the season tonight as they welcome the Pittsburgh Penguins to town for the final time this season. Both teams welcome back old friends to their locker rooms tonight, with the Penguins reacquiring Alexei Kovalev from Ottawa and the Canes adding Cory Stillman from Florida. Both players will see their first action with their new teams tonight.
Kovalev has had a history of playing well against the Canes, with 46 points in 62 career games against the Carolina franchise, but he was held scoreless against the Canes this season in three games while a member of the Senators. Still, with the Penguins down Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Kovalev will be expected to add some much-needed scoring punch to a team that's lost its way without its two superstars, having lost three in a row and five of their last six.
As for Stillman, he's a known quantity at the RBC Center, and it should surprise precisely no one that he was immediately reunited with Eric Staal and Erik Cole at the morning skate, as Bob reported a few hours ago. Stillman has had a rough season with the Panthers, but the Canes are hoping that familiarity will lead to good things, as evidenced by reuniting the top line from the 2006 Cup run. (As an aside, if you haven't read Cory's recap of why Joe Ovies calls the Canes the greenest team in the NHL, and you have at least twenty minutes, go do it now.)
The Canes have been floundering a bit lately, going 3-5-3 so far in February, and they can go a long way toward solidifying their place in the top eight by taking advantage of an injury-decimated Penguins squad...
1:44 1st: Canes lead 1-0; Harrison 3 (Cole, McBain) So who, exactly, had Jay Harrison pegged as the hottest hand on the Canes' roster? Truth be told, Erik Cole created that play by inexplicably drawing two defenders to him in the far circle, then when Cole hit Harrison in stride on a pinch from the left point Harrison had all day to fire. He skated in to the hash marks and let loose with a wrister that beat Marc-Andre Fleury high to the glove side to give the Canes the lead.
7:05 1st: I know it's early, but Fleury looks a bit shaky on his feet tonight. He's not moving laterally all that well and his defensemen are bailing him out. All the more reason for the Canes to use tape-to-tape lateral passes whenever possible.
15:00 1st: The line juggling that Paul Maurice undertook at the morning skate after the acquisition of Stillman has paid off early. All four lines have had at least one scoring chance, and Stillman nearly set up a goal himself as he fed Eric Staal from behind the net for a shot that went just wide.
16:43 1st: Stop the presses, the Canes score on the power play! Corvo 10 (Pitkanen, Jokinen) (pp) Mired in a slump that saw them score one power play goal in their last seven game (and an 0-fer in their last five), Joe Corvo cashed in on the Canes' second man advantage of the night. Credit goes to Erik Cole, who doesn't get an assist but set a perfect screen in front of Fleury that prevented him from ever seeing the shot until it was past him.
End 1st: The Penguins have 43 seconds to kill on a Kovalev interference penalty to start the second, and the Canes have earned every bit of their lead. They've outplayed the Pens at both ends, and hold a 9-6 edge on the shot chart.
4:30 2nd: Now the Canes are coming off their cool a bit, with two straight penalties. Even down a man, though, the Canes are getting scoring chances from the likes of Brandon Sutter and especially Chad LaRose, who has been the Canes' best penalty killer by a mile tonight.
10:35 2nd: Cam Ward has been the story of the period. The Penguins have kept the pressure on after their two early power plays, and Ward has bailed the Canes out with big save after big save.
10:59 2nd: Canes up 3-0; Cole 18 (Staal, Joslin) It's Joslin's first point with the Canes, and it wouldn't have come without some yeoman's work in front of Fleury by Cory Stillman. Joslin kept the point after a turnover deep in the Pens' zone, and Staal fired a pass across the crease to Cole who had a tap-in. Stillman screened Fleury from seeing the pass until it was too late, and it was the last play Fleury would see, as Dan Bylsma pulled him for Brent Johnson.
15:34 2nd: Pens on the board, down 3-1; Dupuis 11 (Rupp, Michalek) You had to figure that at some point the Pens would break through, given their consistent pressure all period. Pascal Dupuis did so, tapping home a slap pass from Michael Rupp in the far circle on a shot Ward never had a chance on to delight the numerous (and I do mean numerous) Pens fans in the building.
End 2nd: Eric Staal went to the locker room on a high hit from Matt Niskanen with 1:00 to go in the period that could have been an elbow or a shoulder depending on your perspective. In an indication of how one-sided the period was, shots in the 2nd were 16-6 Pens, who led overall 22-15 after two.
Update: The Canes have announced that Staal is out for the rest of the night with an upper body injury.
2:00 3rd: You can be forgiven for hoping that "upper body" does not mean concussion. It sure looks like a possibility on the Staal hit; the way he stayed on the ice was rather concerning and he was a bit lost skating off the ice. The Canes look a bit shell-shocked to start the period, understandably, but they at least have the cushion of a two-goal lead.
7:00 3rd: The Canes are hanging in this game on the strength of Cam Ward and an Elmer's-glue defense. If they get out of this game with two points, it will be noteworthy. After starting strong, they have been consistently outplayed for the last period and a half.
14:53 3rd: Canes take a 3-goal lead back; Jokinen 15 (Sutter, Joslin) Beautiful finish by Jokinen, on a 2-on-1 that was started way back 150 feet away on a nice tape-to-tape pass from Joslin to Brandon Sutter. Sutter then fed Jokinen, who roofed a shot high over a perfect defensive play by Zbynek Michalek in the only place he could have beaten Johnson. The Sutter line is the only one that stayed intact after the injury to Staal, and it's obvious why.
Postgame: The concern was evident on both Jay Harrison's and Paul Maurice's faces when asked about the status of Eric Staal. Maurice said that Staal will not travel with the team to Montreal tonight, and they're hopeful he will be able to play on Tuesday against Florida. If not, the Canes are in trouble; they have an enormous four-point game against Buffalo looming six days from now, and they need all hands on deck. If Staal's upper-body injury, which increasingly looks like at least a mild concussion, persists for more than a few days...well, we saw last year what happens when Eric Staal is out of the Canes' lineup. It isn't pretty. Keep your fingers crossed.
Bob will have more in the recap later tonight. We'll be back with another live blog Tuesday night when the Panthers come to town.