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Cullen passes first test in return from injury

Thursday, 04.16.2009 / 12:06 AM / 2009 Playoffs Conference Quarterfinals

By John McGourty - Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- This was the game that Matt Cullen waited two years for, or three.

Cullen, 32, a second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 1996, had played seven seasons in the NHL when he signed as a free agent with the Hurricanes in July 2005. Eleven months later, he had helped the Hurricanes to their first Stanley Cup. Cullen scored 25 goals and added 24 assists for a career-high 49 points in the regular season, then had 4 goals and 14 assists in 25 playoff games.

Cullen cashed in on his career year three weeks later by signing a free-agent contract with the New York Rangers. But New York wasn't a good fit, and Cullen was traded back to the Hurricanes on July 17, 2007, for Andrew Hutchinson, Joe Barnes and Carolina's third-round choice in the 2008 Entry Draft.

Cullen was playing very well this season for the Hurricanes, posting 22 goals and 21 assists until he suffered a foot injury while blocking a shot against the New York Islanders. He missed the last eight games of the season and returned to practice earlier this week.

Coach Paul Maurice was careful Wednesday night, using Cullen for only two first-period shifts totaling 1:27 minutes. But that increased to 3:26 of second-period playing time and 5:31 in the third period.

Cullen was on the ice for the Hurricanes' only goal, winning a crucial offensive-zone faceoff that led to Ray Whitney's score, cutting the Devils' lead to 3-1. After the 4-1 loss, Cullen said he felt good and is looking forward to working on a game plan that will produce a victory in Game 2 on Friday.

"Everything. Everything worked for them tonight. We did not play that well and that's the story. Marty (Brodeur) played well and Cam (Ward) did too. We didn't create enough offense and gave up some inopportune chances. That was the difference."
-- Carolina's Matt Cullen

"We have to put this behind us," Cullen said. "It's the playoffs and you can't think about this for any length of time. We know that, we have enough experienced guys in here. We're going to go back to the hotel, put a good meal in us and put it behind us. Get a good night's rest and come back here tomorrow."

Maurice was pleasantly pleased with Cullen's performance but wouldn't project how much ice time the Minnesota-born center will get in Game 2.

"I thought he came back pretty good," Maurice said. "Early on, we only used him two shifts in the first. I thought he handled the puck pretty well. He was a plus. He was on the ice for a goal-for. We didn't have a whole lot of that going on. I was pleased that he got through it the way he did."

If you thought Wednesday's game was one-sided, Cullen agrees. Normally an analytical type, Cullen quickly identified what worked for the Devils.

"Everything. Everything worked for them tonight," Cullen said. "We did not play that well and that's the story. Marty (Brodeur) played well and Cam (Ward) did too. We didn't create enough offense and gave up some inopportune chances. That was the difference."

Quote of the Day

We've got to find a way to win a game. He's played well in the minors, now he gets his opportunity. We tried [with Jonathan Bernier]. The way I look at it, you get opportunities and you make the most of it. That's what [James Reimer] did. Now another opportunity is here and Sparks ... you gotta grab it. Is he ready? We'll find out.

— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock to the Toronto Star on recalling goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL to start Monday in his NHL debut
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