For the second consecutive game, the Hurricanes will have a scheduling advantage.
Tonight’s opponent, the Florida Panthers, will be playing the second of back-to-back games while the Hurricanes have been off since Saturday. In the Canes’ most recent contest, a 6-3 win over New Jersey, they were also able to sit at home at watch while their competition played in a different city.
As Hurricanes’ coach Paul Maurice pointed out prior to the New Jersey game, such details don’t always matter as his team got off to great starts in recent wins in St. Louis and Ottawa – games in which they found themselves on the opposite side of the equation. However, the fatigue of playing on consecutive nights seemed to be a factor on Saturday, when the Canes stormed out to an early 4-0 lead against the sluggish Devils.
In the beginning (of games), it can be an advantage,” said Tuomo Ruutu, who has 8 points in his last four games. “I try not to really think about it, because if you do, you’re mind is off your game.”
For Maurice, it’s not so much the back-to-back games but the more lengthy stretches of a busy schedule that can have an impact. Tonight’s match-up will be the third in four nights for the Panthers.
“It’s more cumulative,” he said. “When you get to the four in sixes, that’s where it really hurts you. When you catch a team like we did Dallas (a 4-1 home loss on Nov. 26) waiting for us at home when were four in six and had lost in Washington (the night before), we would have needed some really unusual things to happen that night.”
The Panthers’ busy schedule could see them turn to backup goaltender Scott Clemmensen for tonight’s game in Raleigh. Starter Tomas Vokoun stopped 32 shots in his team’s 3-0 shutout win over the New York Rangers on Sunday, but has faced 80 shots in two games dating back to Dec. 31. Clemmensen, who is 1-3-0 with a 3.28 goals-against average in six career games against Carolina, is coming off a 40-save performance from last week’s shootout loss against Phoenix.
Much like the Hurricanes, who will be aiming to tie a season high with their fourth consecutive win tonight, the Panthers also have some momentum on their side.
After their big victory in New York, tonight’s visitors are 4-2-1 over their last seven games – a stretch that has seen them get back to the .500 mark for the first time since late November. Both teams have won their sole January game after posting their only month above the .500 mark in December.
This will be the fourth of six meetings between the two division rivals this season. After a sloppy 7-4 game in Florida on Nov. 5, Carolina has taken the next two match-ups by one goal apiece.
Former Hurricane Cory Stillman is healthy again, having played just 39 seconds in this season’s series due to injury. He left on his first shift in the Nov. 5 game with a shoulder injury that kept him out of the next night’s rematch and has only played two games since returning from a separate back concern that kept him out of the lineup for over a month. He had a goal disallowed due to a kicking motion on Sunday.
The Hurricanes are not expecting any lineup changes for tonight, with Jussi Jokinen, Joni Pitkanen and Jiri Tlusty all out. Tlusty continues to practice in a gold non-contact jersey, while Jokinen has made brief appearances at recent skates to test his lower-body concern, including Monday’s session. Of the three, Jokinen appears closest to returning, with Maurice saying that, barring a setback, he should be able to play Wednesday night at the Rangers.