Typically, a team would get at least a moment or two to enjoy its biggest win of the season. The Hurricanes can’t afford that luxury.
Fresh off Cam Ward’s 40-save shutout of the Buffalo Sabres, the Canes have a turnaround of less than 24 hours before facing the Toronto Maple Leafs in yet another game with playoff implications Wednesday night at the RBC Center. Currently sandwiched between the two teams in ninth place, the Canes have the opportunity to pull even with the eighth-place Sabres, who are idle tonight, and pull away from the 11th-place Leafs, who sit just four points back.
“We needed the win, and if you’re going to go back-to-back, it’s good to come off after a stretch where you haven’t won and then won a game, and then you’re feeling good and don’t want to forget that,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice, whose team was previously winless in four straight. “You want to get back on the ice and keep it going.”
Even with a win against Toronto, the Canes can technically finish the night no better than ninth, as they’ll have played one more game than Buffalo. Toronto could leapfrog New Jersey and get to 10th, closing the gap on Carolina to just two points.
Much like the Canes’ game against Buffalo, anything less than two points for Toronto would present a serious blow to its playoff chances.
“We’re going to have a real excited team playing against us tonight with lots of jump,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. “They’re going to come into this game feeling like we went into last night’s game, feeling that you had to have it. It’s going to be a high-energy game.”
Maurice said that he would have no changes to his lineup, with Troy Bodie serving as a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game. However, those playing could have slightly different roles.
Jeff Skinner, who recorded a game-high six shots in Buffalo and was named the game’s second star despite not scoring a point, moved to the top line with Eric Staal and Tuomo Ruutu, where he is expected to start tonight. Skinner also drew several penalties, which has become a common theme this season.
“I thought his game last night was as good as he’s played in a long, long time with lots of energy and lots of bite,” said Maurice of the 18-year-old rookie scoring leader. “We’re going to give him an opportunity now to play against the better players and against the better set of D. If he keeps that kind of energy, he’s going to put some pucks in the net.”
Maurice also said that the trio of Drayson Bowman, Chad LaRose and Brandon Sutter, who worked as a power-play unit at Monday’s practice, could get a chance to do so in a game situation tonight as the team looks to improve a current slump that has seen it score just three times in its last 66 chances.
“We may look at that early tonight,” he said. “If we don’t like the first one, then we’re going to give somebody else a chance.”
The Canes’ coach said that he intended to use that group for the first man advantage in the third period against Buffalo, but that LaRose and Sutter had just killed a pair of penalties and weren’t the freshest options by the time the Sabres were whistled for too many men on the ice just past the eight-minute mark.
Carolina won’t be looking to change anything on the other side of special teams, having killed 91.1 percent of opposing power plays over its last 14 games.
It likely goes without saying at this point, but Ward will again start for the Hurricanes in goal, even though back-to-back games are often split between the starter and the backup to avoid fatigue.
“I’m not even a little bit worried about it,” said Maurice. "We had four days off and he didn’t play in Chicago, so he’s as fresh as he’s been all season.
“Historically he’s better on back-to-back nights. He plays his best in the second half.”
Conversely, Toronto is expected to counter with Jean Sebastien-Giguere, who has become the Leafs’ No. 2 choice in recent months behind 23-year-old James Reimer. That would end a run of 12 consecutive starts for Reimer, who shut out Carolina in Toronto on Feb. 3.
Toronto top prospect Nazem Kadri, recalled from the American Hockey League on Tuesday, will play his first NHL game since December. The 20-year-old seventh overall draft choice in 2007, has 41 points in 44 games with the Toronto Marlies this season.