Everyone recognizes the importance of the coming games for the Carolina Hurricanes. Call them "critical", "must win", or any other adjective you prefer, if the team doesn't start winning games soon, time will run out.
The Canes, (31-28-10) are presently in the great white north to take on their rival Buffalo Sabres, (34-27-8) tonight at the HSBC. The Sabres are four points ahead of the visitors and the Canes, with just 12 games remaining after tonight, can ill-afford to fall behind any further.
It wasn't long ago that the Hurricanes were ahead of the Sabres, but an 0-3-1 record in their last four games, and a 3-5-2 record in their last 10, has put the Canes outside of a playoff spot, looking in.
The Sabres are 6-2-2 in their last 10.
Carolina has not won a game since switching up their previous first line of Eric Staal, Cory Stillman, and Erik Cole. Will Paul Maurice stick with Ruutu on the first line and keep Cole with Jeff Skinner and Jussi Jokinen?
Jamie McBain remains out, meaning that Derek Joslin will take his spot on defense.
Cam Ward will be in net and will face arch nemesis Ryan Miller.
|2010 - Cam Ward||61||3530||28||23||157||2.67||1952||1795||.920||2|
|2010 - Ryan Miller||57||3360||29||20||151||2.70||1725||1574||.912||3|
Buffalo is also well aware of the importance of this game.
"You can use the phrase 'biggest game of the year,' and it really is for them," said coach Lindy Ruff this morning.
The Buffalo News had their lines like this:
Thomas Vanek-Brad Boyes-Drew Stafford
Tyler Ennis-Tim Connolly-Jason Pominville
Nathan Gerbe-Paul Gaustad-Mark Mancari
Rob Niedermayer-Cody McCormick-Mike Grier
The defensive pairings would be determined before game time.
Die By The Blade will have more specific info about the Sabres.
Both teams won games, 3-2 in their two previous matchups this season, the Canes won in OT, the Sabres in regulation. Carolina is 2-7-0 in their last nine tries at the HSBC.
Of course, much has been made of the Carolina powerplay which is 0 of the last 21 and 3 of the last 62. Will the Canes break the streak? If you're looking for some good news, the penalty kill is 32 of 35, (91.4%) in the last 13 games.
WRAL.com has a preview at this link.
How big is this game? Even ESPN has an article.
There's not much more to say other than it should be a good one.
The game will be televised on VERSUS with pregame at 7 and puck drop at 7:30. We will have the open game thread ready to go at 6:30.