The Carolina Hurricanes recent success against the New York Islanders is well-documented.
Back from a three-game road trip in which the team captured four out of a possible six points with wins at Columbus and Winnipeg, the Canes will attempt to sweep the Islanders in the final game of their four-game season series tonight in Raleigh.
Carolina has claimed victory in one-goal decisions in the two teams’ previous three meetings this season. A three-goal second period, bolstered by Jiri Tlusty’s two goals, propelled the Canes to a 4-3 win on Oct. 19 in New York. The two teams met in Raleigh on Nov. 7, a 1-0 shutout win for Justin Peters, who made 21 saves. Most recently, Anton Khudobin stopped 38 shots in a 3-2 win on Long Island, the Hurricanes’ six straight victory against the Islanders.
The Canes also swept the 2012-13 season series between the two teams, winning all three games, the last of which was a 4-3 shootout decision.
Further, the Canes have posted a 23-5-5 record in the last 33 games against the Islanders. Carolina has earned a point in 20 of the last 22 meetings (16-2-4) with New York and in nine of their last 10 meetings (7-1-2) in Raleigh.
“They’re a quick team. They’re a team that really loves to attack, and their D join the rush. I think what we’ve done a good job of is containing them and being aware of it. Lots of times they love the outnumbered situations. It’s a young group, but they’re capable of scoring. We’ve kept a good structured game against them, keeping it tight that way. We’ve scored key goals at the right time, and it’s not going to be any different now,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “We expect tonight will be a tough game.”
The Canes’ three victories in the season series have all been back-stopped by a different goaltender. Cam Ward will get the nod in net tonight, his second straight start, as he looks for his second win in as many starts against the Isles this season. He made 22 saves in New York on Oct. 19, and he holds a 17-3-3 record and a 2.41 goals-against average in his career versus the Islanders.
Muller called Ward’s 36-save, highlight-reel performance in Winnipeg on Saturday the netminder’s “best game of the year.”
“Cam had such a great game in Winnipeg that we’re giving him the opportunity to go again,” he said.
On the road trip, the brothers Staal were briefly united on a line with Alexander Semin, but Muller and the coaching staff opted to balance the scoring threat in Winnipeg. The team will ice a similar look tonight, with Andrei Loktionov centering Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty while Jordan Staal centers Nathan Gerbe and Semin. Riley Nash is flanked by Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm, while a line of Drayson Bowman, Manny Malhotra and Patrick Dwyer rounds out the forward bunch, with Radek Dvorak being the healthy extra.
“It gives us more of a balance overall,” Muller said of his combinations.
While defending a two-on-one drill in the morning skate, Ron Hainsey took what initially looked to be an innocent spill. But he got to his feet favoring his upper body and left the ice a bit early clearly in some pain. Never the less, he should be in the lineup tonight, paired with John-Michael Liles.
“You’d hate to see that anytime, a little freaky thing like that,” Muller said of Hainsey. “But he seems to be all right.”
Just 11 games, including five at home, remain for the Canes in the 2013-14 campaign. The team currently sits nine points out of a playoff spot, mathematically still in the race but realistically seeing hope fade with each passing game. Even still, there’s no quit in the locker room.
“There’s a lot of fight in our guys left. Our basic message from the Olympics on has been one game at a time,” Muller said. “Our five-on-five game we’re happy with right now, our special teams is doing well and our goaltending is giving us a chance to win. With that mix, we’re giving ourselves an opportunity to win every night. We just have to look at ourselves, prepare and get ready to play good hockey; it doesn’t matter what opponent we’re playing against. We’re just approaching it like, hey, there’s still an avenue to make it, and as long as there is, let’s keep slugging it out.”