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Filling the Void

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes

Lines from Friday's practice

If this keeps up, the Hurricanes might tweak their “Play with the Canes” promotion to take on a more literal sense.

Already faced with a whopping nine players out of their lineup on Thursday night, Carolina lost captain Rod Brind’Amour for the next four to six months, essentially the rest of the season, with a torn ACL on the very first shift of the game.

The good news is that the team still managed to turn in one of their most complete efforts of the season – a 4-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, in which the Canes took a season-high 46 shots on goal while managing to limit the oppositions’ scoring chances despite having only three established NHL defensemen in the lineup.

Still, replacing Brind’Amour and his contributions in basically every game situation imaginable won’t be an easy task.  He led the team in average ice time per game with 22:27 per contest, a figure that will now have to be spread around in order to fill the gap.

“It’s a good opportunity for a lot of guys,” said Trevor Letowski, who filled in for Brind’Amour on a line with Andrew Ladd and Sergei Samsonov on Thursday.  “He gobbles up a lot of minutes, so it’s going be kind of by committee that we take care of those minutes.  You’ve got to take advantage of it, and that’s what this league is all about.”

”Obviously it’s a tremendous loss for our organization, as Justin Williams was,” said coach Peter Laviolette.  “But when you lose Roddy, your captain and a guy that fills so many roles on our team, it makes it difficult.  In saying that, while he’ll be missed and we certainly could use him on the ice, again it’s an opportunity for others to step up, and I think they did last night.

Even though coaches and players alike stressed that Brind’Amour’s shoes will have to be filled collectively by the entire team, most eyes will naturally turn towards Eric Staal.  The fourth-year center was recently named a full-time assistant captain (he previously only wore the “A” on the road) after Cory Stillman’s departure to Ottawa.

The reigning All-Star MVP broke out of a seven-game scoreless drought in a big way against Pittsburgh, notching a goal and an assist on a suddenly-successful power play that tallied three goals.

”If you watched Eric’s minutes even before Roddy got hurt, they’ve started to take off,” said Laviolette.  “He’s kind of officially moved into that role as a supporting cast to Roddy, and it’s a chance for him to spread his wings as a leader in the locker room and carry this team.”

“When you lose a centerman like Rod other guys need to step up, and I’m one of them,” said Staal.  “I’m looking forward to the challenge.  Obviously it doesn’t just take me but it takes everybody and different guys contributing.  Just like last night, we lost him in the first minute and I thought Letowski and Aucoin really did a great job filling in on those two lines, and we played solid the rest of the way, and there’s no reason why we can’t the rest of the way throughout the season, so we’re looking forward to it.”

The Hurricanes will have to evaluate some of the players currently sitting out of the lineup before they decide on whether or not to make yet another call to Albany for reinforcements.

The defensive trio of Joe Corvo, Tim Gleason and Bret Hedican remained off the ice for Friday’s practice, but it is believed that one or all of them could be back for Saturday’s game against Florida.  Dennis Seidenberg practiced with the team fully for the first time in weeks, but declared himself not quite ready for game action.  Matt Cullen and Patrick Eaves skated with no-contact jerseys but are not expected to return within the next few days.

With Thursday night’s effort, the Hurricanes do currently have confidence that they’ll be able to win games with the players they have.  With the call-ups providing energy and the healthy veterans rallying around each other, you certainly won’t hear any excuses coming from the Canes locker room as they continue to fight for the Southeast Division title.

“I think at the end of the day there’s a will to win, and last night that will to win was evident for me,” said Laviolette.  “Our expectation can’t be anything other than winning every game we play from hereon out.”

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