The “Curse of the Bobblehead” is over before it really even began.
Coach Paul Maurice confirmed today that Chad LaRose will return to the lineup on his bobblehead night tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He will be activated from injured reserve any time now – a transaction that will coincide with Drayson Bowman’s return to Albany. Sergei Samsonov will also play for the first time since New Year’s Eve.
LaRose, who has missed the team’s last 17 games with a lower-body injury, was not a certainty to play until after he got through the morning skate with no issues. As evidence of that, Bowman remained in the locker room on standby just in case, even though he did not skate.
In the Hurricanes’ previous player bobblehead night this season in honor of Erik Cole, Cole did not suit up due to a leg injury. Maurice said that he was hoping Tuomo Ruutu could play in the final week before the Olympic break – a window that could also see the player as a game-time decision for his own bobblehead event.
Maurice said that the return of LaRose and Samsonov will not cause any shuffling among his top two scoring lines, but that the third and fourth units will likely see some shuffling as the game goes on.
”We’ll try to get a feel early on in the game as to how Samsonov and LaRose look,” said Maurice. “We’re not going to push their minutes up too hard or too high early in the game especially, but if they’re going you may see them quite a bit more later.”
The Hurricanes are looking for their ninth straight home win over Tampa Bay tonight. Carolina won all six meetings last season, but broke their overall winning streak with a 5-2 loss in Tampa on October 10.
With a pair of three-assist efforts in his last three games, Joni Pitkanen seems like a decent bet to hit the 200-point plateau for his career tonight. He would need two points to do so, and has 18 points (1 goal, 17 assists) in 18 career games against the Lightning.
Since joining the Hurricanes in a trade with Tampa last season, fellow Finn Jussi Jokinen has also done well against the Lightning. He has recorded one point in each of the four games he’s played against his former team, and has five points in his last four games overall. He would have one more point in that span if not for a scoring change in Saturday night’s game that saw an assist instead credited to Eric Staal on the Canes’ third goal.
For the Lightning, number one goaltender Mike Smith is out with a strained neck. Antero Nittymaki, who has played in 22 games this season, will start for the second consecutive game despite being pulled on Saturday night against Florida. He allowed five goals on 18 shots in that contest, paving the way for rookie Dustin Tokarski to make his NHL debut in relief. Tokarski was teammates with Bowman in Spokane of the Western Hockey League.
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St. Pete Times: Injured goalie Mike Smith return from road trip
Tampa Tribune: Lightning trying to learn from Oates’ knowledge