The Carolina Hurricanes enter tonight’s play just two points out of a playoff spot, but with the red-hot Florida Panthers (70 points) sandwiched between the Canes and the Columbus Blue Jackets (71 points) who currently hold the final spot. Complicating matters, the Panthers happen to have three games in hand on both Carolina and Columbus, making them certainly a formidable challenger, if not the favorite to earn the final spot at this juncture.
With his first goal since returning to the lineup on Sunday, Jordan Staal has continued to show that his presence is vital for this team if they are to have any hope of competing down the stretch. With Staal and Justin Williams manning the top line, and Elias Lindholm holding his own as the second-line center with Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho, the Canes now have two lines that are proving to be dangerous. If the Canes are hoping to get over the hump in the season’s final month, it may come down to the newly formed third line with Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, and Phil Di Giuseppe providing some offensive punch to go along with the top two lines continuing to click. The new third line group did have a run of success together two seasons ago in Di Giuseppe’s inaugural campaign, which saw him provide the only real offensive production of his career with 17 points in 41 games. Can this group rekindle their previous short-term success?
Cam Ward returns to the net for another start in Minnesota, and at this point, it may be Ward in net from here on out, unless he begins to struggle. Here are the lines from today’s morning skate:
Brock McGinn - Jordan Staal - Justin Williams
Sebastian Aho - Elias Lindholm - Teuvo Teravainen
Jeff Skinner - Victor Rask - Phil Di Giuseppe
Lucas Wallmark - Derek Ryan - Lee Stempniak
Jaccob Slavin - Justin Faulk
Noah Hanifin - Brett Pesce
Haydn Fleury - Trevor van Riemsdyk
The Minnesota Wild enter tonight currently in a Central Division playoff spot, but precariously located only four points ahead of the cut line. While the Wild certainly are confident they are a deserving playoff team, the ultra-competitive Western Conference may potentially leave a deserving team on the outside looking in this season, and the Wild are only a week to 10 days of poor hockey away from being on the wrong side of the ledger.
The Wild will slot Devan Dubnyk into goal tonight, in hopes that he can continue his recent good run that has seen the team accrue points in six of his past seven starts. For the Canes, keeping former captain Eric Staal out of the goal column would seem to be critical. Staal has scored at least one goal in each of the last five victories for the Wild. They are 0-2 in the two most recent games in which he didn’t tally.
Below are the projected lines for the Wild:
Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle
Jason Zucker - Eric Staal - Mikael Granlund
Nino Niederreiter - Joel Eriksson Ek - Tyler Ennis
Marcus Foligno - Matt Cullen - Daniel Winnik
Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin - Matt Dumba
Gustav Olofsson - Nate Prosser