As the Hurricanes have at least crept into shouting distance of a potential playoff run with their play over the last few months, coach Paul Maurice has noticed a change in how his team approaches games.
Not that such change should be considered a bad thing. As little as one might want to alter anything that has resulted in nine wins over the last 12 games, Maurice believes a little added pressure could be a good thing.
“I think because we’ve fought ourselves back into a reasonable proximity that you start to feel it, but that’s a really great, great feeling to come into the rink and feel a little energy in the morning and a little tension,” he said. “You can feel it in the room and you can feel it in the morning skate that there’s more on the line from the game tonight. That’s what you coach for and that’s definitely what you play for.”
Tonight’s game against the Boston Bruins is probably the team’s most important of the season in that anything less than two points could severely damage the team’s faint playoff hopes, although should they win, each subsequent game will carry that same weight.
It’s a relatively new feeling for the Canes, who have rolled through the last few months without that burden.
”There was a time there when we were probably playing a little loose, but I never felt that in the game we were just trading chances, everybody quit defensively and it was all about points,” said Maurice, who will coach his 800th game with the Hurricanes tonight. “I never felt that we were doing that.”
Despite the player having missed yesterday’s practice and today’s morning skate, Maurice said he expects defenseman Tim Gleason to be in the lineup tonight despite a minor lower-body injury. Jamie McBain was recalled from Albany this morning as an insurance policy, but nonetheless has a very good chance to make his NHL debut against the Bruins.
”He’s a puck-moving defenseman and we’d like to see him,” said Maurice of the soon-to-be-22-year-old McBain, an offensive-minded player whom the Hurricanes consider to be an excellent prospect. “It’s a big game, but at the same time he does some things that the other D don’t do naturally. We’ll make those decisions a lot on how Tim is feeling, but I expect him in the lineup tonight.”
If Gleason is able to play and the team chooses to use McBain, who has 40 points in 68 American Hockey League games this season, they will either scratch another defenseman or use all seven currently on the roster. If they opt for the latter, a forward will sit out.
Maurice has elected to keep Erik Cole on the right wing of the first unit with Eric Staal and Ray Whitney, where he spent parts of the last two games. It originally looked like the lines would revert to how they were prior to Brandon Sutter’s injury, but a somewhat new look will be utilized instead. Full lines can be found here, although defensive pairings have not yet been determined for reasons listed above.
The Hurricanes have an advantage in the fact that they were able to sit back and watch the Bruins play last night in a 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils. In that game, the Devils scored three times in the first period, which was too much for the league’s lowest-scoring team to overcome.
The Bruins pulled defending Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas after the third New Jersey goal on 10 shots, signaling that the up-and-coming Tuuka Rask, who leads the league with a 2.09 goals-against average in 33 games played, could get the start in Raleigh tonight.
In terms of playoff chances, tonight’s game is probably more important for the Hurricanes from a do-or-die standpoint, but the Bruins are also in quite a battle, holding a slim one-point lead for the East’s final playoff spot. They have emotional games coming up against the Rangers on Sunday and the Penguins before that on Thursday, the latter of which is the first meeting since Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke knocked out the Bruins' Marc Savard with a questionable hit to the head that went unpunished by the league. The Hurricanes will be hoping to sneak up on the Bruins ahead of those two contests.
Former Cane Dennis Seidenberg has been a bright spot for the Bruins since the trade deadline, earning rave reviews from the media and head coach Claude Julien. He has been paired with blueline mainstay Zdeno Chara, a spot occupied by another former Hurricane, Aaron Ward, last season.