Pittsburgh Penguins (42-27-8-92) at Carolina Hurricanes (43-28-7-93)
Where: RBC Center
When: Saturday, April 4, at 7 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series: Pittsburgh is 2-1-0 against the Hurricanes, with a 5-2 win at RBC Center Dec. 4 in head coach Paul Maurice’s re-debut.
|PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES ||RELATED CONTENT |
Pens vs Hurricanes 1/20
|KEYS TO VICTORY |
|Solve Ward: The Penguins put six pucks behind Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur and the Devils Wednesday night. Facing Ward may be an even more daunting task with his recent hot streak (see player spotlight for details). The key to this game for Pittsburgh will be scoring on Ward anyway it can. |
Postseason Play: Although the Penguins have been in a postseason mentality for nearly two months, this game will have the dramatic feel of a playoff game. With each team's recent stretches, they are easily playing like the two best teams in the NHL. Both teams are fighting for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and this game will be pivotal in that quest. It should be a close matchup and possibly a first-round playoff preview.
LOWDOWN ON THE 'CANES
|General manager Jim Rutherford was not happy when the Hurricanes became the first team in NHL history to miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons after winning the Stanley Cup. Carolina finished just two-points shy of a postseason berth last year with injuries to captain Rod Brind’Amour (knee), Justin Williams (knee), Matt Cullen (concussion) and Ray Whitney (ankle). The group missed a combined 67 games but the Hurricanes still finished with a 43-33-6 record for 92 points. They were leading in the Southeast Division towards the end of the season but couldn’t hold off a surging Washington Capitals team. Rutherford was determined to make changes if things didn’t improve. Carolina started the year with a 12-11-2 record, losing four of those last five games and Rutherford decided it was time to shake things up. |
The Hurricanes made a drastic overhaul to the coaching staff. Peter Laviolette, who coached the team to a Stanley Cup championship two years prior, was relieved of his duties. Paul Maurice, who coached Carolina from 1995-2003, was named as Laviolette’s successor. Former Penguin and Hall of Famer Ron Francis was added as an associate coach. The rest of the Hurricanes’ coaching staff remained in place. Following the change, Carolina responded with a 31-17-5 mark. The Hurricanes are even hotter than the Penguins right now, losing only one game in regulation in their past 14 contests (11-1-2) and are riding a seven-game winning streak into the showdown with Pittsburgh.
|NEW FACES |
|The newest face (sort of) is Maurice, who held the title of head coach for the Hurricanes when they were still the Hartford Whalers. He’s the winningest coach in franchise history with 299 victories. Maurice coached the Toronto Maple Leafs the past two seasons. |
As for the team, the biggest offseason move Rutherford made was sending Erik Cole to Edmonton for Joni Pitkanen. In re-tooling the defensive corps, Rutherford added Anton Babchuk and Joseph Melichar. The Hurricanes general manager spent most of the offseason re-signing players that he had acquired during the season: Joe Corvo, Sergei Samsonov and Tuomo Ruutu. The return of Rod Brind’Amour, Matt Cullen, Justin Williams and Ray Whitney have been big additions to this year’s squad.
Rutherford made a few moves prior to the March trade deadline. First, he traded Melichar and Wade Brookbank to Tampa Bay for Jussi Jokinen. Then Carolina, as part of a three-way trade on deadline day, re-acquired Cole from Edmonton while shipping Williams to Los Angeles.
|Carolina currently ranks 16th in the league with an average of 2.83 goals per game. |
Eric Staal, who will eventually become the face of the franchise if he isn’t already, has proven to be a lethal goal scorer - amassing 45, 30 and 38 goals in the last three seasons. Staal has a team-best 35 goals this year to go with his 69 points - second most on the team. He’s centering the ‘Canes’ top line with Cole and Tuomo Ruutu. Cole has 10 points (2G-8A) in 13 games since returning to Carolina. Ruutu is third on the team in scoring with 51 points on 24 goals and 27 assists.
Veteran Ray Whitney leads the team with 71 points (24G-47A) in 78 games. He’s working on the second combination with Jokinen and Chad LaRose. The third line features Sergei Samsonov, Brind’Amour and Patrick Eaves. Captain and local icon Brind’Amour, who recently played in his 1,400th career game, is an incredible two-way center and may be the best in the league in the faceoff circle. His production is down this year with only 48 points (15G-33A) and minus rating of minus-(-20). But the 38-year-old has 17 points (7G-10A) in his last 13 games and ranks fourth on the team in points. Samsonov has tallied 47 points with 16 goals and 31 assists. Matt Cullen, who has compiled 22 goals and 43 points, will play in his 800th career game in his next contest. Unfortunately, he’s missed the past four games with a lower-body injury (day-to-day).
|Carolina has struggled with goals allowed during the first portion of the season, allowing 3.00 goals per game to rank between 23 – 27th in the NHL. But the team has been so good lately at keeping pucks out of its own net, that they’ve dropped that number to 2.70 to rank 10th in the league. |
The Hurricanes’ defense was overhauled from last season. Longtime blue line standout Glen Wesley retired and Brett Hedican left in free agency. Rutherford traded Erik Cole (and later re-acquired him) to Edmonton for Joni Pitkanen. He is a big presence at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and has a lot of offensive abilities. Pitkanen is second in scoring among blueliners with 33 points but did miss 11 games with a knee injury.
Rutherford re-signed Joe Corvo after he scored 21 points in 23 games with Carolina after the team traded for him last season. The move has paid off as Corvo tops the defensive corps with 38 points. Tim Gleason has been a physical force for Carolina’s defense. Frantisek Kaberle is a crafty veteran and with over 600 games of experience. The remaining minutes are divided between Niclas Wallin and free agent addition Anton Babchuk, who leads the team with a plus-12 rating.
|Ward looks like he is back in his Conn Smythe form during the Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup Championship three seasons prior. At 25 years old, he is still relatively young and has improved each season. He’s already tied a career high with 37 wins and five shutouts. He will also set personal bests if his goals against average, 2.45 (2.75), and save percentage, .916 (.904) remain at their current levels. His 37 victories this year are the third most in the league (more on Ward below). |
With backup John Grahame’s departure, the team inked 27-year-old Michael Leighton to a two-year deal. Leighton was the AHL Goalie of the Year last season after going 28-25-4 with a 2.10 goal against average and a .931 save percentage with the Albany River Rats. In 17 games he’s posted a 6-6-2 mark, 2.94 GAA and .900 save percentage.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: CAM WARD
|Cam Ward is arguably the best goalie in the NHL right now with the way he’s playing (with respect to Marc-Andre Fleury). On April 1, the NHL named Ward the league’s first star of the month. Ward earned a 10-1-2 record with a 1.98 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage in 13 games in March. He has started each of the Hurricanes’ last 25 games, posting a 17-6-2 record, 2.29 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage and two shutouts in that span. This current streak is now the longest consecutive-starts streak of his career. Ward was also named the NHL’s third star of the week for the period ending March 29, marking the fourth “star of the week” honor for him this season. He is one win shy of tying the franchise record of 38 wins by a goaltender in a season set by Martin Gerber in 2005-06. |
|"THEY SAID IT" |
|"We’ve been good in games where we have been down and in tight games. Those are the things that drive you now. For a lot of them, while they remember the disappointment from last year, it doesn’t translate into fear." |
- Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice
|POINT OF INTEREST |
|To put Carolina’s recent success into perspective, the Hurricanes: |
7: Have won a season-best seven straight games
10: Have won their last 10 home games, a franchise record
14: Have lost only one regulation game in their past 14 contests (11-1-2)
22: Are coming off the best month of March in team history after a 10-1-2 (22 points) run in 13 games