Four of the Carolina Hurricanes’ five remaining games will be played against Metropolitan Division opponents – all teams the club is chasing in the standings – and the New Jersey Devils come to town tonight.
The Canes, who are riding a season-long five-game point streak and a two-game winning streak, trail the Devils by three points in the standings.
“It’s all about where we stand,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “We’re battling right to the end. We got some help last night, we’re doing our part of pecking away and getting wins and [points], and this is just the next game on the list. Whether it’s home or away, we’ve got to come out hard again.”
The Canes should enter tonight’s contest as the more rested of the two teams, as New Jersey skated in a 2-1 win over Washington last night at Prudential Center. After beginning the game with 11 forwards, the Devils lost Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique and Jacob Josefson to injury. Former Hurricane Ryan Carter broke the 1-1 tie late in the third period to give the Devils the two-point decision.
“We’ve got to just come at them hard,” Muller said. “We’ve got to play a high-tempo game and try to wear them down. It’s the same thing we’ve been saying: it’s a 60-minute mentality. … You might get your results later on in the game, or you might get them in the first. But we’ve got to keep the game high-tempo. We should be the rested club and ready to go.”
Tonight marks Tuomo Ruutu’s return to PNC Arena following a trade-deadline day deal that sent him to New Jersey in exchange for Andrei Loktionov. Since the trade, Ruutu has posted 7 points (3g, 4a) with the Devils, including an assist and the game-winning goals against the Canes on March 8 in New Jersey.
Loktionov has recorded 8 points (3g, 5a) with the Canes since the trade, all coming in his last nine games. He’s been a point-per-game producer in his last six games, scoring twice and notching four assists.
“He’s been great,” Muller said. “He was brought in for a couple of reasons. I think the trade worked well for both teams, but what we needed was a guy who could be a playmaker on our power play and play the half-wall. If you look at our stats on the power play since he’s been here, it’s really increased. We were looking for another forward five-on-five who could play with Eric and be a playmaking kind of player. He’s been given the opportunity, and he’s taken full advantage of it.”
Loktionov has figured largely into the Canes’ recent power play success, as the team is scoring at a 29-percent clip (9-for-31) on the man advantage in their last nine games. Prior to that, the Canes had scored a power-play goal in just two of their previous 12 games. Net front presence, which Muller said the team has been doing a better job of lately, has also contributed to goals scored a man up.
“It’s part of it. It’s execution,” Muller said. “The chemistry when you look at the one unit with Lindholm, Skinner and Loti there, and Harry’s been shooting it. They’re shooting the puck first and then creating the plays. They’ve really picked up their intensity on it, their creativity and their desperation.”
In other lineup notes, though he did skate this morning, Jiri Tlusty’s upper-body concern will keep him out of the lineup for the third straight game. Andrej Sekera, who was a late scratch on Thursday with a lower-body injury, did not skate today and will not play tonight.
“He’s been battling, so he was a bit of question mark,” Muller said of Sekera’s injury on Thursday. “It just didn’t get better, so we had to make the change.”
Recalled from Charlotte on Friday evening, Ryan Murphy is expected to draw back into the lineup on the back-end, paired with Jay Harrison. Murphy last played on March 18 in Columbus before leaving the game with an upper-body injury. Forwards Alexander Semin and Drayson Bowman, who have been ill, will also be back in the lineup on the first line and fourth line, respectively.
Anton Khudobin will make his third straight start in net. He's made 65 saves on 67 shots in his last two games (.970 save percentage), and his .931 season save percentage ranks second in the league behind only Josh Harding of Minnesota (.933).
Fan Appreciation Week continues tonight. All fans in attendance will receive a team poster presented by the Governor’s Highway Safety Program. Stormy will be celebrating his birthday with a number of his mascot friends. With beautiful weather in the forecast, a south plaza party will take place outside of the box office prior to the game, and the annual jersey off a player’s back ceremony will take place on the ice following the game.