Hurricanes Record: 16-18-2 (34 pts.)
Rangers Record: 18-15-4 (40 pts.)
Tonight the Hurricanes and Rangers face off for the second time this season and the first time at PNC Arena. The two teams played at MSG on March 18th and the Rangers won 2-1 in a shootout. The teams will meet again in New York to wrap up their regular season series on April 25.
The Hurricanes are coming off a 5-0 shutout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night, while the Rangers played last night in Pittsburgh and lost to
Jussi Jokinen the Penguins 2-1 in a shootout.
The Hurricanes are now ranked 12th in the Eastern Conference, and 3rd in the Southeast Division. While there are still games in hand on most teams ahead of them in the standings, a 1-9-1 record over the last 11 games has not instilled a lot of confidence although playoffs are still within reach with a reversal of fortune. Traditionally strong on home ice , the Hurricanes have lost the last six home games in a row, a feat that hasn't been accomplished since the 2002-03 season when they lost seven straight at home.
The word of the day is "fragile" and it was repeated multiple times post-game on Thursday night and again in head coach Kirk Muller's audio following Friday's practice, where the message was to recommit to the system that worked for them in the earlier stages of the season.
The Hurricanes top line of Eric Staal, Alexander Semin, and Jiri Tlusty did not practice on Friday as they were given a day off to rest. The rest of the forwards skated along with all defensemen including Justin Faulk (IR, knee) who skated before practice and with the team. Faulk is close to returning to the line-up but has not yet been activated from IR, and there is no word as to whether he will play tonight.
After playing in six NHL games, Brett Bellemore was sent back to Charlotte and wasn't in the line-up Thursday night, but he has since been recalled again. Expect Bellemore to be in the line-up, but whether the team dresses seven defensemen or scratches one is to be determined.
Goaltender Dan Ellis was very vocal in criticizing his own play in net on Thursday night, and he motivated the team with a few changes to the locker room standings board on Friday. There's been no official word on who will start tonight but I would suspect Ellis over Justin Peters, who has never faced the Rangers. Ellis is 3-1-1 with a 2.14 GAA in five games against the Rangers.
The Hurricanes will not hold a morning skate today.
Here's how the team lined up based on Friday's practice (absent the top line):
Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Alexander Semin
Jeff Skinner - Jordan Staal - Patrick Dwyer
Tuomo Ruutu - Riley Nash - Chad LaRose
Drayson Bowman - Tim Brent - Kevin Westgarth
Tim Gleason - Joe Corvo
Jay Harrison - Jamie McBain
Marc-Andre Bergeron - Bobby Sanguinetti
Injuries: Cam Ward (IR, knee) and Joni Pitkanen (IR, foot).
The Rangers are 2nd in the Atlantic Division and 7th in the Eastern Conference. They lost 2-1 in a shootout last night in Pittsburgh (side note: both Penguins goals were scored by Jussi Jokinen in his first game after being traded from the Hurricanes to the Penguins) and will play here on the second game of an away back-to-back.
The Rangers made big splashes at the trade deadline, acquiring forward Ryane Clowe from the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday and sending Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for forward Derick Brassard and defenseman John Moore (along with Derek Dorsett who is out for the season with an injury). All three players announced their arrival by combining for four goals and four assists in their first game with the Rangers on April 3rd (also against the Penguins), and Clowe showed his physical side with a fight and other assorted chippiness against the Penguins Friday night.
Defenseman Marc Staal is traveling with the team on this roadtrip so that he can take in a family visit while the team is here in Raleigh. Staal, who was injured in a game on March 5th when he was struck in the eye by a puck, continues to improve and is working out off the ice but has not yet returned to practice with the team.
With the back-to-back situation Martin Biron would have likely gotten the call in net tonight anyway, but with the shootout effort and post-game comments from Henrik Lundqvist that he had a slight hamstring tweak during the shootout, it's even more likely. Biron is 13-4-3 with a 2.50 GAA and one shutout in 22 games against the Hurricanes.
Rangers lines on Friday (courtesy of Blueshirt Banter):
Rick Nash - Brad Richards - Ryan Callahan
Mats Zuccarello - Derek Stepan - Ryane Clowe
Carl Hagelin - Derick Brassard - Brian Boyle
Arron Asham - Darroll Powe - Taylor Pyatt
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Anton Stralman - Michael Del Zotto
Steve Eminger - John Moore
Out of the line-up: Matt Gilroy (healthy), Marc Staal (eye), J.T. Miller (wrist)
The game thread will open at 6:30 pm. See you at the rink.
UPDATE: 11:50 am - Forward Zac Dalpe has been recalled from the Charlotte Checkers. Release [here]. No word as to who he could be replacing in the lineup.