Saturday, Mar 12, 2011, 7:00 PM EST
If the Hurricanes are serious about making a playoff run, it starts tonight against a bottom-seven team in the Western Conference.
Beat the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight and, while it becomes no guarantee the Canes will make it into the East's top eight, at least the Canes will be in the discussion. Lose, and suddenly Tuesday's game in Buffalo takes on the air of an elimination game. Good teams find ways to win the games they should win. Tonight's game falls in that category for the Canes.
Not to say that it will be easy, though. For one thing, the Canes haven't beaten the Blue Jackets since December of 2005. For another...well, we've all seen the Canes' power play recently. That said, they're facing a team that is in largely the same situation as they are: after the Jackets won four in a row before the trade deadline they went on a disastrous 0-3-2 road trip and tumbled right back down the standings. The team that wins this game could easily be the one that plays less badly.
Paul Maurice announced before the game that Jamie McBain suffered an upper-body injury last night (and as he left the ice at Verizon Center last night, he was hanging his hand eerily similarly to how I was hanging mine when I broke my wrist...not sayin', just sayin') and McBain will be out indefinitely. Derek Joslin will enter the lineup after five games as a healthy scratch to replace McBain, but that's the only lineup change: Jerome Samson will be the healthy extra, as he was last night, and Drayson Bowman will again play on the fourth line with Troy Bodie and Patrick Dwyer.
The standings tell the story of the huge disparity between the conferences: the Jackets have 71 points and are essentially now afterthoughts in the Western Conference playoff race. The Canes have 72 and are still right in the thick of it. On Military Appreciation Night, the Canes will look to give a sellout crowd a win over a team named for a Civil War regiment. (Funny, it's like they planned it that way...)
3:18 1st: The Canes are about to head on a 5-on-3 drawn directly as a result of the Jackets' lethargy in covering the Canes on the breakout. Two straight hooking penalties were drawn as first Jeff Skinner and then Jussi Jokinen blasted past Jared Boll and Jan Hejda, respectively. Shows that if the Canes use their speed tonight, good things will presumably happen.
4:44 1st: Jackets lead 1-0; Pahlsson 6 (Dorsett, Russell) (sh) Yeah, of course it's a shorty. The Canes blew the 5-on-3, then on a breakout Kris Russell deftly danced around Erik Cole at the point and set up a play while skating backwards in the offensive zone. Derek Dorsett's shot was saved by Cam Ward, but the rebound kicked right to Sami Pahlsson who potted his sixth with 40 seconds remaining in Hejda's hooking penalty.
8:44 1st: How pathetic has the Canes' power play been lately? Try 7-for-71 since the All-Star Break, and 3-for-56since February 9. They've scored three goals on the power play in the last 33 days. Wow.
13:00 1st: Far be it for a hack sportswriter to sit here and diagnose what's wrong with the Canes' power play, but that early 5-on-3 that went by the wayside shot whatever confidence they had coming into this game. They're back on their heels, and if they go to a power play again watch how tightly they're gripping their sticks and looking for the perfect shot. The confidence with the man advantage, which then translates to 5-on-5 play, has completely disappeared.
End 1st: Steve Mason robbed Chad LaRose with a minute left on what was the Canes' best chance of the night, but that's par for the course as the Canes' failings on the power play have now reached the level of "truly ridiculous". Shots were 11-10 Columbus in the first period.
:42 2nd: Jackets make it 2-0; MacKenzie 7 (Calvert, Hejda) You expected this, right? Pretty simple to explain: 30-foot wrister, well placed, high over Ward's glove on the far side. We've heard this song before.
8:20 2nd: Perfect example of what I mean by having no confidence: Staal skates the puck out from the near half wall into the slot, but instead of passing to Ruutu he keeps the puck, and nearly collides with Ruutu anyway, causing a turnover. Staal's frustrated, as he slammed his stick on the boards when he went back to the bench, but it's obvious one hand has no earthly idea what the other is doing.
13:52 2nd: Canes get their second 5-on-3 of the night and call timeout to discuss. Will it work?
15:16 2nd: Nothing doing on the second, so why not a third? Derek Dorsett goes for slashing, then gets two more for mouthing off at the official. Wow.
17:03 2nd: Nothing doing on the third either. And then Cole takes a penalty to negate all but fourteen seconds of Dorsett's second penalty. The Canes had all sorts of chances, including five (!) empty nets, but they whiffed or shot the puck wide. It's really comical at this point, but at least their failure that time wasn't an execution problem - it was just plain bad luck.
End 2nd: Shots in the 2nd were just like the 1st, 11-10 Columbus (22-20 overall). The Canes certainly looked more interested on their power plays, and if you look at them outside of the prism of being 0-for-forever on the power play you'd be encouraged. Still, moral victories won't get this team any closer to the top eight.
4:07 3rd: Bryan Allen took a rather ill-timed penalty for cross-checking Scottie Upshall after the whistle, but the Jackets (who possess an even worse power play than the Canes, if you can believe that) couldn't take advantage. The Canes then caught a break when Derick Brassard went to the box for interfering with Cam Ward, their eighth man advantage of the night.
9:16 3rd: Canes finally dent Mason; Skinner 24 (Cole, Jokinen) After all the great plays Mason has made tonight, allowing a short-side goal to Jeff Skinner won't stand among them. Off a faceoff, Jussi Jokinen won it forward and Skinner snuck behind the Jackets' defense, beating Mason on the short side with a tricky snap shot for his first goal since the Chicago game - although it felt like a lot longer ago than that.
16:52 3rd: Fedor Tyutin off for tripping and the Canes get their ninth (!!!) power play of the night.
18:59 3rd: Turn out the lights... MacKenzie 8 (Clitsome) (en) And like that, we're done. The Canes' Jussi Jokinen missed a wide-open net late in the power play, to the surprise of no one. This has to rank among the most frustrating nights I've ever seen.
19:26 3rd: Canes back to within one; Ruutu 17 (Staal, Harrison) Not dead yet, folks, Ruutu gives the Canes life beating Mason with the sixth attacker.
Postgame: Now they are. Canes lose 3-2, their first four-game winless skid of the season and it's obvious the sticks are being ground into sawdust as a result of their inability to finish on the power play. Paul Maurice said twice in the postgame press conference that the last two games are as good as the Canes have played this year, and they have zero points to show for them. The confidence will come, eventually, but when it does will it be too late?
Bob will have more in a few minutes. The Canes are off tomorrow for Casino Night, then they're back at the RBC for practice Monday before a flight to Buffalo and a critical game against the Sabres on Tuesday night. And if you think they'll be practicing the power play at Monday's practice...well, you can figure that one out for yourself.