It sure is easy to throw around the “biggest game of the year” tag these days.
Although games labeled as such can be trumped by contests of equal or greater magnitude only days later, as could be the case this week, Tuesday night’s game in Washington
still presents as solid of a case as any.
Should the Canes win (in regulation), they are Southeast Division champions and the east’s third seed in the playoffs. Simple as that. Losing wouldn’t be the end of the world either, but there’s no question the Canes want to lock up a playoffs spot as soon as possible.
They could get some help on that front from Ray Whitney and Justin Williams, who coach Peter Laviolette listed as “probable” for Tuesday. Both skated with the team full-contact on Monday and were part of regular groupings on the power play – Whitney on the first group with Eric Staal and Erik Cole, and Williams on the second with Sergei Samsonov and Tuomo Ruutu.
“We’re coming to crunch time, and we’ll see what the coaches say tomorrow,” said Williams, who took a beating along the boards from some of his teammates at the end of practice in order to test himself physically. ”It’s always fun running into Nicky Wallin.”
Bret Hedican is also probable after missing one game with a torso injury. Matt Cullen skated in a blue jersey and looked sharp as ever in the shootout drill, but hasn’t yet been cleared for contact.
Getting Whitney and Williams, who have missed 12 and 43 games, respectively, back in the lineup could provide a boost that the Canes could use to put the Capitals away once and for all in the divisional race.
“We have played well without them, but obviously it spices up the team when you get those star players back,” said Wallin. “You obviously miss them and you hate to see them hurt. I’m not a star player, but I know how it is to be hurt and be on the side, and it’s the toughest part to see the other guys, win or lose. I welcome them back and it’s going to be fun to see them on the ice again.”
Should those two be in the lineup against Washington
, having more than enough healthy players at his disposal would present Laviolette with the type of decision he hasn’t had to make in some time. Still, with the team playing as well as it has even with so many injuries, he indicated that the changes will be as small as possible.
“I think that the team that we’ve fielded is an excellent team and has played some really good hockey,” he said. “On most given nights we’ve out-chanced and outworked our opponent and we’ve won a lot of hockey games. I don’t think that it’s the time to mess with that with question marks.”