Having fought through a pair of games against fellow playoff contenders the last week, the Canes will now have to hold off another would-be spoiler.
After their comeback win against the 14th-place New York Islanders on Saturday, the Canes now take on the Eastern Conference’s 15th-place Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night. While their upcoming opponents won’t have the postseason on their minds, they, like the Islanders, present their own unique challenges.
“I think you also see that the pressure completely comes off those teams and it’s a different life for them,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice, whose team will try to beat Ottawa for the seventh consecutive time at the RBC Center. “Now they’re playing for next year, they’ve kind of mourned their season already, made their trades at the deadline and now there’s lots of excitement.”
The Senators, doomed by a late-December to mid-February run that saw them win just two of 18 games, have now won five of their last seven, including two in a row over the New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning. Their win over the Lightning on Saturday was eerily similar to the Canes’ last game against the Islanders in that they scored twice in the final seven minutes to erase a two-goal deficit before winning in overtime.
Even though the Senators are playing some of their best hockey with nothing to lose, Maurice hopes his own squad will overcome that due to the desperation that comes with the playoff race.
“The difference in a lot of these games has been a little bit of an edge, and we should have that advantage on them because there’s so much more at stake for us,” said Maurice.
A key part of the Senators’ recent run has been goaltender Craig Anderson, the former Florida Panther who was acquired via a trade with Colorado last month and signed a four-year contract extension with his new team on Monday. However, he did not play in the team’s last two games due to an undisclosed injury, though he was well enough to serve as the backup. The even-more-recently acquired Curtis McElhinny, who was claimed on waivers from Tampa Bay, won both of his starts.
“He’s played well since he’s been there and he’s very, very quick,” said Maurice of Anderson. “Beating that guy would be good for our confidence and our shooters.”
Although the Canes are not expected to have any changes from their lineup – Troy Bodie, a healthy scratch for the last three games, took the tell-tale post-practice workout with Assistant Coach Tom Rowe – they may have one for their following game in Tampa Bay Friday. Defenseman Jamie McBain, who was expected to miss most if not all of the regular season with a shoulder injury, took part in practice without the non-contact jersey he had worn for the previous few days.
Everything went well in that regard, besides one minor hiccup.
“Other than the puck in the face that he took, I think that was his most significant injury in today’s practice,” said Maurice. “We may have a decision to make by the weekend.”
For the Sens, defenseman Sergei Gonchar is expected to miss the game with a concussion, with 20-year-old Patrick Wiercioch expected to make his NHL debut. Forward Milan Michalek, the team’s fifth-highest scorer with 29 points, has a chance to return from a broken foot suffered Feb. 26.
Along with fellow All-Stars Keith Yandle of Phoenix and Shea Weber of Nashville, Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson is one of just three defensemen to lead his team in scoring. He has 43 points, one more than Jason Spezza. However, his minus-32 plus/minus rating ranks second-to-last in the league, just ahead of teammate Chris Phillips.