Finally, a game! I was starting to forget that we still had these.
It’s been four days since the Canes beat the Devils on Saturday night, which ties the longest pause (not counting the All-Star break) that the team has had this season, matching two earlier stretches. The first such break came in early December when the team made its coaching change, and the second was in February following the team’s west-coast swing through Vancouver, San Jose and Phoenix.
The Canes actually lost their game following each of those prolonged quiet spells, but with the team currently playing much better now than it was back then, there’s reason to believe that things should be a little different this time around.
No one is denying that the opening minutes may still be a small challenge as the team shakes off the rust, but if the Canes can get through that unscathed, they should be just fine.
“I think we need to have the same mentality that we had in the last six games and take it into this game,” said defenseman Tim Gleason. “I think the key is to play the first 10 minutes pretty simple. We’ve had great practices this week, and I think if anything the layoff should be better.”
“(The start is important) for two reasons,” said Coach Paul Maurice. “One for the time off, and then secondly because that’s where the Rangers really establish their game. The last time they were here, they played great in the first and we held water and got through it and got stronger as the game went on. I expect a bit of that tonight.”
The time off has provided Carolina with some extra time to heal injuries. Scott Walker, who the team has been extremely cautious with (and rightfully so) up until this point, will make his return to the lineup tonight. Since suffering an elbow to the head all the way back on January 20, he has just played one game – against Calgary on March 6, in which he scored a goal.Maurice said no decision had been made on who Walker will replace in the lineup, but it will almost certainly be one of Ryan Bayda, Tim Conboy or Dwight Helminen.
The rest won’t be enough for center Matt Cullen, however, who still hasn’t resumed practicing with the team since playing in a limited role against Washington on March 21.
Additionally, just because those two are the only players that appear on the injury report, there are certainly some minor issues that guys play through at this time of year. They’ve earned some relief as well.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Rangers trail the Hurricanes by just two points in the standings with an even number of games played. Although New York could catch up with a regulation win tonight, Carolina would still hold the tiebreaker by way of more victories and would remain the sixth seed. A win would take the Canes past idle Philadelphia and into fourth place.
If the Canes were to prevail, it would be continuing a recent theme at the RBC Center as the team would set a new franchise record with their 10th consecutive win at home.
On the Rangers front, defenseman Michal Rozsival, who has been out since March 22 with a knee injury, will be a game-time decision after returning to practice yesterday. Rozsival leads all Rangers defensemen in scoring with 30 points (8g, 22a) in 72 games and logs big minutes on the power play.
Speaking of the Rangers power play, it has struggled all season with just a 14.0 percent success rate, good for 29th in the league. However, they still meet Maurice’s “100 percent rule” as their penalty kill leads the league with an 88.1 percent pace.
Thursday Notes and Updates:
- Zach Boychuk’s Lethbridge Hurricanes won Game 7 of their first round series by a score of 4-3 last night to advance to the second round against the Calgary Hitmen, starting tomorrow. Boychuk had a goal and an assist to give him 10 points for the series, ranking him tied for second in WHL playoff scoring.
The win also means that Boychuk won’t be joining the Canes’ AHL affiliate in Albany for their six remaining regular season games.
Around the NHL last night, Buffalo dropped a point against Atlanta in overtime, while Pittsburgh took care of New Jersey by a 6-1 score, dropping the Canes to sixth place in the east, although they could leapfrog the Pens again tonight.
I wasn’t as initially concerned as others were about Jersey’s recent slump, but after that performance, their season-high sixth straight defeat with the playoffs just around the corner, it’s time to get worried if you’re a Devils fan. Would a first-round match-up with New Jersey be the best possible scenario for the Canes at this point?
- Although points earned by the Sabres and Penguins don’t increase Carolina’s chances to get into the playoffs, a Philadelphia loss does increase their chances of earning the fourth seed and home ice advantage. The Canes would own that position with a regulation victory tonight, but would still have played two more games than the Flyers.