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'Canes understand significance of SKA matchup

by Dan Rosen
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- At least the Carolina Hurricanes aren't calling Monday's tilt against SKA St. Petersburg of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League just another preseason game.
No one would believe them if they tried to spin it that way.

The 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere Challenge will mark the first time in 20 years that an NHL team has played a game against a Russian team in Russia, and on top of that there is still what many perceive to be a frosty relationship between the NHL and KHL as a backdrop to the event, which will be streamed live on
"The game in Russia will be more of a playoff-type atmosphere," Carolina coach Paul Maurice told the media in Raleigh before the Canes departed Friday evening.
He could be dead on.
Without listing any of his further expectations for what his team could be facing Monday at Ice Palace (11:30 a.m. ET,, Maurice said he can tell simply by the questions being asked of him by the dozen or so Russian reporters covering Carolina's practice Sunday that the hype for this preseason game is well beyond anything you'll find for an Oct. 4 game in North America.
"I'm assuming that this is a big deal and there will be a lot of energy, but this is my first time in a Russian arena so I don't really know," Maurice said. "I would imagine there will be a lot of energy."
Carolina captain Eric Staal, who Russian media have made the most popular member of Carolina's traveling party, was stumped when asked if the team can expect something bigger, yet still treat the game and play the game as if it is just a preseason game.
"It's going to seem bigger," Staal told "I don't know how many people are going to be at the game, but it'll probably be full and it'll be exciting when we get there. The place will be amped up, the fans will be amped up, and once the game starts you want to win no matter what."
Staal went on to say that he believes the energy inside the Ice Palace, which seats roughly 13,500, will push the team. But -- and this is a big but -- he threw in a caveat at the end of his answer.
"At the same time, we can't take two points away with a win over them," Staal said. "We need the two wins against Minnesota in Helsinki, so we're building toward that. Hopefully we play well tomorrow to feel good with where we're at as we look toward Minnesota."
The Hurricanes will leave for Helsinki right after Monday's game, and judging by their demeanor on the flight to St. Petersburg after they took a 2-1 shootout win against Atlanta on Friday afternoon at RBC Center, a win definitely makes their travels (even if the flight is only an hour) much more enjoyable.
So they'll push to win, but how hard remains to be seen.
Maurice said No. 1 goalie Cam Ward will start, but the plan is to have him play only half the game. Ward, though, could change that if he wants to.
"If he doesn't get enough work or he doesn't feel good, he has the green light to stay in," Maurice said.
Maurice hopes the lines he uses Monday will "give us a good indicator of where we're at." But he is throwing a curveball by subbing out one forward for Jiri Tlusty, who hasn't seen much action this preseason as he recovers from offseason knee surgery.
The coach would not say which forward will come out of the lineup, but was quick to say that everyone is healthy.
Maurice has seen some video of SKA's KHL games this season. St. Petersburg hasn't played since last Thursday, when it completed a brutal stretch of 11 games in 21 days leading up to the Compuware NHL Premiere Challenge. They are 6-3-2 and have won three straight after a tough start to the season.
"We have video on these guys so we've done some work with that, but we're actually trying to get away from some of it," Maurice said. "We'll do some, but it won't be a lot. It's more for the coaches, so we can talk our teams through their systems so we don't have to show it over and over again."
"We can't take two points away with a win over them. We need the two wins against Minnesota in Helsinki, so we're building toward that. Hopefully we play well tomorrow to feel good with where we're at as we look toward Minnesota."   -- Eric Staal
Some of SKA's players should be familiar to the Hurricanes, specifically former NHL players such as Alexei Yashin, Maxim Afinogenov, Sergei Brylin, Denis Grebeshkov, Vitaly Vishnevsky and Evgeni Nabokov.
"We know almost half their team, and without being disrespectful, it is the high end of that team," Maurice said. "Their high end is good. They have enough jump out there."
The Canes should, too, but then there is the matter of the ice surface.
SKA plays on the larger international ice, which is roughly 15 feet wider than what is found in North America. Maurice admitted he has concerns about players trying to tailor their game to the size of the ice, which is why he has talked at length with his players about keeping things simple and sticking to the system, even if it's not tailored to the larger ice sheet.
"(The larger ice) changes everything, but it doesn't change us," Maurice said. "The fact of the matter is we're going to look like we're chasing the puck all over the ice."
He's fine with that, and so is GM Jim Rutherford, who doesn't plan to do much, if any, player analysis during Monday's game.
He's saving that for when Carolina gets to Helsinki and faces the Minnesota Wild to open the regular season with games Thursday and Friday.
"What we need to do is get a real good skate (Monday), a real good workout and play to win the game, but our focus is really on getting to Helsinki and starting our League," Rutherford told "That's really when I'll zero in on each individual player to see where they're at. I know there is a lot of hype here in St. Petersburg and I understand that because it's been a long time since an NHL team has played in Russia. For us, we'll give it our best shot, but our main focus is on the opening of the regular season."
That is believable.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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