With the recent rains pelting Orange County over the past three days, it’s only fitting that a team named the Hurricanes comes to town. Tonight marks the second of five consecutive at Honda Center and the final game of the season series between Anaheim and Carolina.
It’s the tale of two teams heading in opposite directions. For the league-leading Ducks (42-14-5, 89 points), they find themselves sitting atop the NHL with a three-point lead over second place Chicago. But for the Hurricanes (26-25-9, 61 points), it’s a battle trying to stay above the Eastern Conference floor. After a 3-1 loss to the LA Kings yesterday, the Hurricanes find themselves in 13th place in the East and seven points away from eight-place Philadelphia. Tonight has all the markings of a so-called “letdown game,” so the Ducks will have to be sharp from the get-go.
“It’s about being aware of your opponent,” said defenseman Bryan Allen, who played two seasons with Carolina (2010-12). “They’re playing in the East and fighting for points. Every game is a big one for them. They’re going to be hungry, so we’re going to have to be ready.”
The Ducks learned a harsh lesson last season during the final stretch before the playoffs. Over the final 20 games of the season, the Ducks played sub- .500 hockey heading into the playoffs. Allen says he hopes it was a wakeup call heading into the final 21 games this season.
“I hope we learned our lesson last year that you can’t take things for granted, and play games to play games,” he said. “At this time of the year, you have to play a certain way to develop a mentality and identity that carries forward.”
Head coach Bruce Boudreau says teams like the Hurricanes - teams that are fighting for their playoff lives – are some of the most dangerous to play against.
“Our hands will be full because they’re a desperate hockey club,” he said. “It’s simple. They have to win or they’ll be out by the end of the week. They’re not looking at rivalries. They’re looking to survive.”
Boudreau knows the Hurricanes well, having coached against them during his time as bench boss of the Washington Capitals. He says the Staal brothers, Eric and Jordan, are two players to keep an eye on.
“When Eric Staal is playing at the best of his game, he’s a very difficult man to stop,” he said. “And when Jordan Staal is playing really well, it gives them two big centers. Jeff Skinner is as quick as anybody, and so is Nathan Gerbe, who’s had a really good year.”
The Ducks have gone 23-5-2 through 30 games at Honda Center, marking the best home start in club history. Anaheim was the fourth team in 40 NHL seasons (since 1973-74) to record points in each of its first 22-plus home games (20-0-2) from Oct. 13-Jan. 15, joining Philadelphia (19-0-7, 1979-80), New York Islanders (19-0-4, 1978-79) and San Jose (20-0-2, 2008-09) in that category. The Ducks, who were the last NHL team to suffer a home loss in regulation this season (Jan. 21 vs. Winnipeg), have gone 15-5-1 in their last 21 home games and earlier set a club record with eight straight home wins to open a season.
Anaheim and Carolina conclude a two-game season series tonight at Honda Center. These two teams first met on Nov. 15 at PNC Arena, a 3-2 shootout loss for the Ducks. The Ducks have won two straight home games against the Hurricanes dating to Nov. 25, 2009 and own a 12-12-3 all-time record vs. tonight's opponent (7-5-1 in Anaheim). Saku Koivu paces Anaheim skaters with 27 points (9g/18a) in 46 career games vs. Carolina.