The Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets both play in the Metropolitan Division, but in 36 regular-season games, they have yet to come head-to-head – until tonight.
In team game 37 for either club, the Canes and Jackets – now division rivals after Columbus moved east in the league’s realignment – will meet in the first of five occasions, three of which will take place at PNC Arena.
The Hurricanes come into tonight’s game at 14-14-8 (identical 7-7-4 home and road records) with 36 points, which ranks them fifth in the Metro Division, just a point behind third-place New Jersey. The Blue Jackets sit in seventh, but they only trail the Hurricanes by two points.
“I think this is a huge game, obviously state-wise and in the standings,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “But we’ve been playing some good hockey, and it’s a matter of getting results when we do.”
Since a five-day break coming off of a four-game road swing out west, the Hurricanes dropped a 4-2 decision to Washington at home on Friday and a 3-2 overtime decision in Tampa Bay on Saturday, results that were opposite of what the team deserved.
“We deserved two points the night before and didn’t get it,” Muller said of the Washington game. “We go down there (Tampa Bay), we didn’t deserve anything and we got a point.”
Versus Washington, the Canes dominated five-on-five play, but giving up three power play goals proved to be the difference. Muller said today that Friday’s game was one of the best efforts his team has put forth all season, special teams aside.
The next night in Tampa Bay, the Canes were vastly outplayed by the Lightning, but Justin Peters put up 47 saves on 50 shots to steal the team a point.
“We were an exhausted team,” Muller said. “The one thing I can say about our group this year is that, even that night, we found a way to get a point. They gave it everything they got.”
Fatigue-wise, losing Jay Harrison to an upper-body injury in the second period didn’t help matters. The Canes will be without his services tonight versus Columbus, and although it wasn’t stated by Muller, Ryan Murphy could draw back into the lineup in Harrison’s stead. Harrison is day-to-day.
“Other than that, we have a good, healthy group,” Muller said.
Muller did not commit to a starting goaltender.
“You’ll see tonight,” he responded, when asked who would start.
Historically, the Canes have not defeated Columbus since Dec. 15, 2005, a 2-1 win in Raleigh. The Blue Jackets have won the last five meetings between the two teams, but the Canes hold a 4-3-0 home record against Columbus.
The Canes did not skate this morning, a multi-faceted decision. For one, Muller said he likes the way his team responds on the ice when not skating in the morning.
“So far this year, we’ve responded by doing well by having no skate in the morning. You can’t always do it because of the schedule,” he said. “When we’re rested and ready to go it seems to benefit us.”
Secondly, Muller wants to see the Canes empty the tank before the three-day holiday break that separates tonight’s game and Friday’s tilt against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who currently lead the Metropolitan Division.
“You want to finish on a good note because we’ll have a few days off before we start up again,” Muller said. “We’ll crank it up, give it all tonight and empty the tank.”