There’s no question that this is the most important game of the Hurricanes’ season, and in the case of some players, possibly the most important game of their entire careers thus far.
In the first true must-win game of 2008-09, the season will be over if the New Jersey Devils walk away winners from the RBC Center tonight. It’s a high-pressure situation for the home team, although you wouldn’t necessarily know it from today’s morning skate.
From the on-ice drills to the quotes in the locker room, there was a remarkably upbeat feeling surrounding the team, which is clearly feeling a lot more enthusiasm than dread.
“You look forward to these days,” said Coach Paul Maurice. “There’s not going to be much of an afternoon nap, but that’s fine. We’d probably all prefer to drop the puck in a half hour here, but you don’t get to do that.”
“I think you have to approach it that way,” said Eric Staal. “We’ve got nothing to lose. Our backs are against the wall and it’s a game we have to have. You can’t go out there tense, you have to go out there loose and having fun. We were good this morning, we were sharp, we were excited and I like the feeling going into the rest of the day.”
“This is fun,” said Tuomo Ruutu. “We’ve got nothing to lose, and we have to go out there and play like it’s our last game. If you don’t play like that, we’re not going to get results out of it. We’ve just got to go out there and play our hearts out.”
As far as their lineup goes, not much has changed from yesterday. Sergei Samsonov did not skate with the team, but skated on his own beforehand and reportedly felt good, causing Maurice to remain “hopeful.” Matt Cullen also did not skate, but will play.
Although Maurice did not confirm it when asked, it also looks as though Anton Babchuk will re-enter the lineup in place of Frantisek Kaberle.
Maurice did say that he would continue to change line combinations at forward as the game goes on, if necessary.
“We won’t have a whole lot of time to wait for a line to have something special happen,” he said.
They didn’t win Game 5 thanks to the performance of one Martin Brodeur, but there’s not much the Canes can do differently tonight. If anything, they’ll try to get a little more traffic in front of the Devils’ goaltender, hoping to beat him with tip-ins like the one that got past Cam Ward Thursday, if nothing else.
“Last game we had a lot of shots, but I think we can get right in front of Marty in order to be successful,” said Ruutu. “Sometimes we were right on the side, and it makes a difference if you’re on the side or right in front of him. Tonight I think if we do that we’re going to score some goals.”
Enjoy the game tonight, and also the great tailgating weather. Those of us that work for the team enjoy what we do, but I can promise you that we will all be insanely jealous of the early-arriving Caniacs today. There’s nothing like hockey in warm weather.