Wednesday, Mar 16, 2011, 7:00 PM EDT
Last night, the Hurricanes won what was as close to a must-win game as we've seen all season. Tonight, instead of trying to make up ground on a team in front of them in the standings, the Canes look to put a serious dent in the playoff hopes of one of the teams chasing them. The Toronto Maple Leafs are four points back of the Canes after last night's action, as the Canes took two points from their game in hand over the Leafs and opened a four-point gap in the standings. A Canes regulation win tonight would put the Leafs eight points out with eleven games to go, effectively ending their hopes of the postseason.
When the Canes last saw the Leafs, on February 3 in Toronto, they helpfully provided goalie James Reimer with his first career shutout. Tonight, Leafs coach Ron Wilson has hinted that Reimer, who was yanked from his last start Monday night in Tampa, will sit in favor of Jean-Sebastien Giguere, which may create an opening for the Canes. *edit: Riemer is starting tonight That said, the Leafs arrived in Raleigh early Tuesday morning, so they've had time to rest while the Canes were concerning themselves with last night's win in Buffalo.
Never one to mess with what is working, the changes Paul Maurice made last night for the 1-0 win over the Sabres will stay in effect tonight. That includes Troy Bodie in the press box, a fourth line of Drayson Bowman, Patrick Dwyer and Jerome Samson, and Jeff Skinner holding down the right wing on Eric Staal's line. Cam Ward, to no one's surprise, will make his fifth straight start, after being named the NHL's first star of the night thanks to a 40-save shutout of the Sabres.
The Canes desperately needed at least five points from this week. A win tonight would put them 80% of the way there.
1:15 1st: One of the new features the Canes have tried out lately is the Stillman-to-Cole stretch pass. They've used it three games in a row, scoring a goal with it against Columbus on Saturday. Seems like they've picked up where they left off when Stillman was traded to Ottawa in 2008.
9:11 1st: Paul Maurice has talked repeatedly lately about getting shots through from outside and having traffic in front to clean up the rebounds. Mission accomplished so far - the Canes have already put five shots on James Reimer, who has been good and doesn't show any ill effects of being pulled two nights ago.
12:24 1st: The Canes score a PPG! LaRose 13 (Sutter, Gleason) (pp) Remember where the Canes were looking to get a few more shots through to the net? It paid off for them with their first power play goal in over two weeks. And like they were looking for, Chad LaRose was in front of the net to clean up a rebound after Reimer couldn't handle a Tim Gleason point shot. You can tell that the Canes had a big weight lifted off their shoulders. The 0-for-28 streak of power-play ineptitude was obviously weighing on them.
17:10 1st: For some reason the Leafs are playing the Canes really tightly in the defensive zone. It's almost like man defense in basketball, and you don't see it often in hockey. Good thing for the Canes, because if the Canes can get traffic in front of Reimer they'll have a better chance to make a play and screen the goalie for a shot from outside.
19:01 1st: Leafs tie it at 1; Phaneuf 6 (Brent, MacArthur) (pp) So of course, since the Canes' power play finally scored after about ten years of trying, their red-hot penalty kill gives up a PPG of its own. A point shot from Dion Phaneuf was mostly stopped by Cam Ward, but the shot trickled off Ward's blocker and into the net to tie it on a questionable elbowing call to Bryan Allen.
End 1st: Despite the late goal, the Canes certainly carried the play for long stretches of the period, and a 12-6 shot lead reflects that.
1:15 2nd: The Canes gave up an early power play to the Leafs thanks to a Chad LaRose delay of game penalty, but it was Eric Staal that had the best chance for either side with a great rush in on Reimer in which he undressed Carl Gunnarsson and just couldn't get the puck up above Reimer's pads. It looked like he was going to will the puck into the net.
7:49 2nd: The Leafs seem content to try to beat the Canes off the rush. Most of this period has been spent going back and forth, with neither team really spending much time setting up in the zone. So far, that seems to be favoring the Leafs, who have had a couple of good scoring opportunities and have shot the puck wide a bunch in the period.
11:03 2nd: Two goals in 12 seconds give the Leafs a 3-1 lead; Phaneuf 7 (Kessel) (pp) at 10:51 then Bozak 12 (Boyce, Phaneuf) at 11:03 This is....well, it sure ain't good. First, another power play goal, the Leafs' second of the night, as Dion Phaneuf let fly a 30-foot slap shot that went over Ward's glove and into the back of the net on a rather soft goal given how well Ward has been playing. Then, twelve seconds later, Darryl Boyce, who nearly had his nose cut off the last time he was in this building, fired a shot from no angle that Tyler Bozak tipped past Ward and in at the far post. Not the Canes' greatest showing there, for sure.
17:35 2nd: Here's frustration defined: on a power play, the Canes do a great job of moving the puck with crisp passes, but every pass is on a player's backhand and they can't do anything with it even with Reimer down. Everything is going right on the power play, but they just can't do anything with their opportunities.
End 2nd: The Canes actually expanded their lead on the shot board that period, outshooting the Leafs 10-9 in the period for a 22-15 overall lead, but that doesn't mean much when they're down by two goals where it counts. As frustrating as it is to say, the Canes' man advantage looks much improved tonight - if it wasn't for the horrific slump, you'd be hard pressed to see anything wrong with it.
2:30 3rd: Here's the Canes' power play in a nutshell: Eric Staal wins a faceoff but falls down in the process and he's stuck on the ice. Joe Corvo, meanwhile, tries to dump it in from the point and instead hits Staal square in the face with his dump-in. Staal was stung and down on the ice for a couple of seconds, but somehow stayed out to finish the shift.
9:56 3rd: Not much doing on the Carolina end so far in this period. Reimer's biggest save was a stop on Drayson Bowman after Bowman undressed Gunnarsson at the blue line. Things are getting a bit chippy, and it looks like the Canes' gas tank is quickly approaching empty.
12:40 3rd: I know it's early, but the Canes are rapidly running out of gas and it's easy to see why they're so good in the front half of back-to-back sets but so average in the back half. Last night's game in Buffalo was a 60-minute effort, and it's been a trend all year that the Canes haven't been able to do 120 strong minutes in a row. To that end, the Canes are looking at a 6-10-1 record in the second half of back-to-back sets unless they can score twice in the last seven minutes.