After dropping a 5-2 decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 23, head coach Kirk Muller discussed how it was unacceptable that the team got outworked and out-competed in its own rink.
The message to the team?
Be a stronger group to play against at home.
The Hurricanes have responded by rattling off three consecutive victories, outscoring opponents 14-6 in those games. In the latter two, the Hurricanes have scored first and led after the first period, not once surrendering the lead.
“You need a good home record to do well at the end of the year. We had a lot of away games early on, and we had good success on the road. But we were at that .500 success here, so we talked about it,” Muller said. “We said we’ve got to come out harder in the first, create the momentum and keep the momentum. And I thought the guys have done a great job.”
The Canes will need to rinse and repeat that effort again tonight, as they look to extend their season-long home winning streaks to four games at home and five games overall. Coming to town is the Eastern Conference’s top team, the Montreal Canadiens, who defeated the Hurricanes 3-0 on Feb. 18.
“That’s the big challenge tonight. You always want to be the better team,” said forward Jiri Tlusty, who has four goals and two assists in his last four games. “We are in our own rink now, and we own this one.”
In that Feb. 18 game in Montreal, the Canes and Habs were scoreless heading into the third period. The Canadiens put three goals on the board in a span of 10 minutes in the final frame.
“It was only a matter of time before someone scored the first goal,” Tlusty said. “Unfortunately it was them, and they look over the game,” Tlusty said.
Recently, the Canes have been a fast-starting team, outscoring their opponents 7-2 in the first period. With Carey Price getting the start in net for Montreal, having a fruitful first 20 minutes could be a key to victory; Price has surrendered 12 goals on his last 59 shots, dropping two straight games.
The challenge then is to sustain that energy for 60 minutes. After skating circles around the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday for two periods, the Canes sat back a bit in the third period, allowing the Sabres to claw their way back into the game.
“If you want to be a hard team to play against, we have to play hard for 60 minutes. Even if we are sitting on the lead, we have to keep going,” Tlusty said. “We want to start hard and make the statement out there.”
On the heels of a 37-save performance in his season debut, Justin Peters will man the crease again for the Hurricanes.
“He had good energy the other night and a good strong game, so we just felt we’d keep it rolling with him,” Muller said.
“It was exciting to get an opportunity to get back in the net in the NHL and continue to try and prove myself,” Peters said Wednesday. “Cam is the backbone of this hockey team, and it’s going to take more than one guy to replace him.”
Dan Ellis, battling flu-like symptoms, said he was feeling better today, having eaten his first meal last night. The virus appears to be spreading around, as Riley Nash was sent home this morning as a precaution.
“He’ll come back tonight, and we’ll see if he’s got the energy to jump in the lineup,” Muller said.
In case he cannot play, the team recalled Jeremy Welsh from Charlotte. Welsh has skated in four games with the Canes this season.