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Gameday: Win One for the Fans

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
Tonight’s game between the Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens doesn’t carry any weight in terms of playoff implications.

Michael Smith
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But there remains something to play for: the fans.

Not only would the team like to close out the season strong tonight and Saturday in Florida, but they would also like to reward the fans with a strong effort, especially after Saturday’s 5-0 loss to New Jersey. Head coach Kirk Muller said that game was disappointing, even more so because it was in front of the home fans.

A strong effort in a 2-1 win in Ottawa on Tuesday has team spirits on the rebound heading into tonight’s match-up and a third of the way to Muller’s goal for the end of the season: three wins in a row.

“We want to go right to the end,” Muller said. “I said to the guys that it was a much better feeling after the Ottawa game the way they played. They were focused, played hard and got better results.

“It’s the last game at home. We want to finish the proper way and play well in front of our fans.”

In addition to winning for the fans, a couple of notable personal milestones are also on the table.

Cam Ward will start in net and go for his 30th win this season. In each of the four seasons that Ward has been the healthy starting goaltender, he’s eclipsed 30 wins. In three games against Montreal this season, Ward has a 1-1-1 record with a 3.25 goals against average and a .903 save percentage.

Another personal milestone on the line tonight belongs to Eric Staal, who can reach the 25-goal and/or 70-point plateau. Staal is one of just eight National Hockey League players to record at least 25 goals in each of the six seasons since in the lockout. (Dany Heatley, Jerome Iginla, Ilya Kovalchuk, Rick Nash, Alex Ovechkin, Martin St. Louis and Thomas Vanek are the other seven.) Staal has also reached 70 points in those six seasons and is a point shy of that mark coming into tonight.

Barring a freak injury between now and puck drop, tonight will mark Bryan Allen’s 600th game in the NHL and 100th with the Hurricanes. Finally, Tuomo Ruutu is a point shy of 300 career points. His game-winning goal Tuesday in Ottawa ended a 14-game goal drought dating back to two games before he was injured in Montreal on Feb. 13.

Opposite the Canes will be 34-goal-scorer Erik Cole and the Canadiens, who are ranked last place in the Eastern Conference. Winless in the four games prior, the Habs defeated the Lightning 5-2 on Wednesday night. Cole scored two goals, padding his career-high goal mark.

The Habs will be without the services of goaltender Carey Price, who was diagnosed with a “mild” concussion. Peter Budaj faced just 16 shots against Tampa Bay on Wednesday night, making 14 saves in the team’s win.

After playing in the team’s last 12 games, forward Drayson Bowman was reassigned to Charlotte of the American Hockey League on Wednesday. The thought was that Andreas Nodl might be able to play, after being cleared for contact following a concussion he suffered in Winnipeg on March 18. But after talking with Nodl this morning, Muller decided to hold him out of the lineup tonight. Defenseman Jaroslav Spacek will dress against his former team after missing the last eight games. He’s played just 9:40 in the last 11 games.

It’s the home finale in the 2011-12 season, the last chance for the Hurricanes to send the home fans home happy. According to the players and head coach, that in itself is well worth playing for.

“The fans have been great, and I think I’ve mentioned that the last few days, but it’s true,” Muller said. “Once you’re here and part of the organization, you hear it daily. Seeing them consistently, the passion is there, they’re behind the team, they support the team and now it’s our job to continue to put a good product out there that they want to come watch.

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