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Line Combos Should Change Tonight

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
Audio: Paul Maurice | Rod Brind'Amour | Eric Staal | Cam Ward

The three players who eventually made up the Hurricanes’ top line in the first round, Chad LaRose, Eric Staal and Ray Whitney, all had a great series. At a point-per-game pace, they tied for the team lead with seven points apiece.

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For Coach Paul Maurice, that combination represents a great first line, but the challenge now is to find a balance to counter what the Boston Bruins bring – four units who are all capable of doing some damage.

“The concern there is that everybody that we’ve played with Eric [Staal] has scored, and then where do we go after that,” he said at a media availability this morning (the team did not skate). “We’ll move some people around, and we won’t wait quite as long in this series if we’re not getting the offensive output.”

Tuomo Ruutu scored the Hurricanes’ first goal in Game 7 against New Jersey, which was also the first goal of the series for the players who made up the team’s second and third lines at the time. There’s every possibility that those players can begin to provide offense on their own – new series, clean slate - but Maurice said his groupings may have a different look in tonight’s Game 1 against Boston.

“Clearly [Staal’s] line has six of our last eight goals and you want to give that time,” Maurice said on Thursday. “But it’s a different team that we’re playing with different match-ups, so we may have to make and adjustment there as well.

Based on those comments, it seems like initial changes may occur within the middle lines, with the possibility of Ryan Bayda, Jussi Jokinen or Scott Walker, who all played great on the fourth unit, moving up the ranks.

Boston will get the defensive match-ups the covet on their home turf in Games 1 and 2, which will should have mammoth defenseman Zdeno Chara, along with partner Aaron Ward, going up against Staal’s unit. The Canes shouldn’t have to worry about Boston countering with a specific forward line to shut down their best players, as Maurice expects the Bruins to roll their offensive players regardless of match-ups.

If Chara and Ward are effective and the secondary offense continues to struggle, it’s easy to see why Maurice may want to break up his dynamic first line if things aren’t working. Then again, the Devils were prepared for that in Game 7, but that didn’t stop both Staal and Whitney from finding the net.

As Maurice pointed out before leaving for Boston, it doesn’t matter where the goals come from, as long as they’re coming with enough regularity.

“[in 2002] I answered a lot of questions going into the Cup final about how Sami Kapanen had to start scoring,” said Maurice. “He doesn’t. Anybody who has zeros right now can have zeros for the next six weeks if they’d like, we just have to make sure the other guys keep their numbers going and you win. Nobody cares who scores.”

As far as which players will be in the lineup, Maurice said there would be no changes from Tuesday’s Game 7.

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