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Important week for Hurricanes' playoff hopes

Sunday, 02.22.2009 / 10:00 PM / The Week Ahead

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

The time is now for the Carolina Hurricanes to begin their playoff push and officially put to bed two-straight years of postseason futility.

And with three of their next four games away from RBC Center, history may be on their side.

The Hurricanes, who haven't qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs since winning it all in 2005-06, enter Tuesday's game with the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place riding a four-game road winning streak. The last time Carolina won four straight away from Raleigh was during a five-game streak from Oct. 22-Nov. 15, 2005 -- the same season it captured that Stanley Cup.

In addition to Ottawa, the Hurricanes will travel to Atlanta on Saturday and Washington on March 3 -- the eve of the NHL trading deadline. In addition to going 15-12-4 on the road this season, center Eric Staal has 6 goals and 9 points in his last 7 road games.

"At home, for whatever reason, we haven't played very well," said Hurricanes wing Ray Whitney. "It's frustrating to have your fans boo you when you leave the ice -- not that it's not warranted. Certainly frustrating and a little humiliating."

On the road, Carolina has not only outscored the opposition, 20-7, over its last three games but has gone 5-for-15 on the power play. The team currently sits ninth in the Eastern Conference -- three behind Buffalo and the Rangers, who are each tied for seventh.

Good day sunshine
-- The Florida Panthers, currently sixth in the Eastern Conference with 68 points, are on the verge of qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.

We'll learn a lot about coach Peter DeBoer's squad this week when they embark on a grueling five-game road swing that includes matches against Northeast Division leader Boston Tuesday, the Rangers Thursday, Atlantic Division leader New Jersey Saturday and Southeast Division leader Washington Sunday. It concludes in Atlanta against the Thrashers on March 3 before finally returning home.

The Caps, incidentally, are 21-8 in their last 29 games against Southeast Division foes, including a 4-2 victory over the Panthers on Feb. 15. Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun, who's been lights out in recent weeks, stopped 41 shots on Saturday to notch his second shutout in three games in a 2-0 victory over the Bruins in Sunrise.
It was the sixth shutout of the season for Vokoun, who stopped 36 shots in Florida's 4-0 victory over New Jersey Tuesday and the Panthers' NHL-high ninth shutout overall.

It's interesting to note that Florida, 14-5-3 in the year 2009, was coming off a 4-0 shutout loss to Chicago Thursday, but has not dropped two consecutive games in regulation since late December.

"It's nice to get to this point because you sense in the dressing room that guys know exactly what we need to do to be successful and it's just a matter of executing," DeBoer said. "It's important that our best players are front and center down the stretch and those guys have been delivering."

Conference bombshells -- With the Stanley Cup Playoffs less than two months away, teams will continue to jockey for position until the very end. In the Eastern Conference, five points separate fifth-seeded Montreal and 10th-seeded Pittsburgh. In the West, six points separate fifth-seeded Vancouver and 10th-seeded Minnesota. Here's a look at a few of the can't-miss games on the docket this week.

Tuesday

Philadelphia at Washington -- The teams took fans on a thrilling seven-game series ride in the opening round of the playoffs last spring and there's hope of a repeat matchup once again this season. The clubs will be meeting for the third time in 2008-09 with each team already having one win under its belt. The Caps, second in the East, trail the all-time series, 65-93-19-0, including a 37-37-13-0 mark on home ice. The Flyers, fourth in the East, are 11-3-2 against teams in the Southeast Division this season. The Caps, however, scored a 2-1 shootout decision in the last meeting on Jan. 6.

Wednesday

San Jose at Detroit -- The Western Conference's top two teams were separated by three points entering the week and the matchup could go a long way to determining the top seed. This will be the fourth and final meeting of the regular season between the squads with San Jose already having taken two of the previous three encounters, including a memorable 6-5 victory on Jan. 17. San Jose's victory not only featured 11 goals, but 12 penalties, including seven roughing minors.

Thursday

Columbus at Edmonton -- The Oilers, eighth in the Conference with 63 points, have won two of the previous three matches against the Blue Jackets, who are currently three points better in the sixth slot. The Oilers lead the all-time series at 21-5-3-2 while outscoring Columbus, 109-71. In the last meeting on Jan. 20, Ales Hemsky scored his second goal with only 35 seconds remaining in the third period to bring host Edmonton a 4-3 victory.

Saturday

Anaheim at Dallas -- The Pacific Division rivals meet for the fourth time with Dallas winning two of the last three affairs. Actually, the Stars, seventh in the Western Conference, have historically faired well against the Ducks, especially on home ice where they are 30-8-3 all-time against Anaheim. The Stars are actually 10-2-3 over their past 15 meetings with the Ducks, who are tied for eighth in the Conference with Edmonton.

"We're in a situation where if we don't get points, it's a grim outlook," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said.

Brodeur's return? -- Several reports have had New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur making his return Thursday against the Colorado Avalanche at Prudential Center.

 
 
It appears Brodeur, who tore a tendon in his left biceps on Nov. 1, had surgery five days later, resumed skating on Jan. 21 and practiced with the full Devils team on Feb. 14, is itching to get some game action. Still, there might not be any rush despite the fact the Devils have lost two of their last three contests. New Jersey, first in the Atlantic Division, is 32-17-1 without the 10-time NHL All-Star.

"I feel good," Brodeur recently told Tom Gulitti of The (Bergen) Record. "I'm good to go, I think. Two or three guys shooting, this is what I've been doing for a week. It's just that the schedule doesn't permit me to go and feel that I'm OK for a game, yet. I'm able to do things now that a week ago I was not able to do. So, I'm really happy about the way everything is going on."

Brodeur's last appearance was on Nov. 1 against the Atlanta Thrashers. He was making his 10th straight start of the season, but left with a bruised elbow 6:38 into the second period following a save on Atlanta's Todd White.

The four-time Vezina Trophy winner stopped all five shots he faced to record his 544th career win and move within seven of Patrick Roy's all-time mark of 551. Additionally, Brodeur needs to play in 22 more games to reach 1,000 for his career and is five shutouts short of Terry Sawchuk's League-record of 103.

Air time - The NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman and co-host Bill Clement will again air Thursday from 4-5 p.m. ET on NHL Home Ice (XM Channel 204 and Sirius Channel 208).

NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman provides the latest news and events from the highest levels of the NHL. The show encourages fans to submit questions via phone and email. To submit questions to NHL Hour call 1-877-645-6696 or email nhlhour@nhl.com. The archived shows of The NHL Hour, a production of NHL Radio, are available for download on NHL.com via a podcast. NHL Hour is a production of NHL Radio.

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com



Quote of the Day

What we expected is what we got. Very mature young individual that's focused. He is on the right track. He's not only a great hockey individual, but he's a good person off the ice. He seemed to take a leadership role with this group right off the hop and ran away with it, and was vocal, was respectful, was everything it takes to be a Panther. His future looks bright.

— Florida Panthers director of player development Brian Skrudland on defenseman Aaron Ekblad's performance at development camp