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Different Roles, Same Stakes for Canes, Thrashers

Wednesday, 03.9.2011 / 12:10 PM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Paul Branecky
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Different Roles, Same Stakes for Canes, Thrashers
Although the roles may have reversed, the stakes are as high as they’ve ever been.

Since the standings made them contenders for the same playoff spot in January, the Hurricanes and Thrashers have met three times. In those cases, Carolina was either looking to catch or create separation in a tight race between the two Southeast Division rivals.

Paul Branecky
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For tonight’s game, it’s the Thrashers who are the clear chasers as the Canes have built a six-point lead. However, the match-up will still be vital as the Canes look to leapfrog the idle Buffalo Sabres to get back above the cutoff line into eighth place and the Thrashers look to climb back into the picture by beating the teams ahead of them.

“Atlanta was the team on the calendar for an awfully long time, and then it changes pretty quickly,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. “They had a real difficult December schedule that I think hurt them with the number of games they had to play, but there’s still an awful lot of hockey. We’re certainly not looking at these guys as if they’re not in the mix. They’re right there.”

“Both teams are still out of playoff position, so we’re kind of in the same boat right now,” said Erik Cole.

Dating back to the beginning of December, the Thrashers are 14-19-8, including a stretch featuring just five wins in their last 23 games. That’s allowed the Canes to surge ahead, but Maurice isn’t taking them lightly based on their recent games.

“Their record hasn’t been great, but their chances for and chances against have been very high,” he said. “They’ve really put up a lot of offense in their games and played pretty darn well, so we’re expecting their best and they should expect ours.”

The Hurricanes have won all four meetings between the teams this year. However, the series has not been as dominant as the record might suggest, with the Canes needing overtime or a shootout to win three of those. The Canes’ lone regulation win on Feb. 13 in Atlanta also came by one goal – a late strike by Cole with 1:19 left on the clock.

That goal was one of three game-winners for Cole in the season series, with the other two coming in overtime at the RBC Center.

“Just dumb luck,” said Cole, who has 7 game-winning goals on the season/

Tonight’s visitors will be without a key piece in defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, who suffered a lower-body injury earlier in the week. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound All-Star is Atlanta’s second highest-scorer with 49 points, trailing captain and former Hurricane Andrew Ladd by one.

Maurice said Byfuglien’s absence could have a big impact on the way the Thrashers play tonight.

“He’s up in the play so much that he’s a challenge to handle and he’s got that bomb at the point, but at the same time they may play a little more sorted game, a little more defensive-minded game and be in some ways tougher to play against,” said Maurice.

Cole agreed that Byfuglien being out of the lineup would affect Atlanta more on the offensive side of the ice, but also noted that Atlanta was able to erase a one-goal deficit and earn a point the last time they were in Raleigh on Feb. 5 despite Byfuglien sitting on the bench for the final 10 minutes.

“They’ve got plenty of capable guys out there,” he said.

Thrashers defenseman Paul Postma, a 22-year-old who has spent the season with Chicago of the American Hockey League, will make his NHL debut in Byfuglien’s place.

It appears as though the Hurricanes will keep their altered defensive pairings from Tuesday’s practice, with Bryan Allen alongside Joe Corvo and Tim Gleason skating with Jay Harrison. The pairing of Joni Pitkanen and Jamie McBain remains intact, with Derek Joslin serving as the healthy scratch.


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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 53 40 9 4 175 120 84
2 FLA 55 32 17 6 153 127 70
3 NYR 55 31 18 6 157 140 68
4 DET 55 28 18 9 138 134 65
5 NYI 53 29 18 6 150 131 64
6 TBL 54 30 20 4 144 130 64
7 BOS 54 29 19 6 159 148 64
8 PIT 54 28 19 7 139 136 63
9 NJD 55 27 21 7 122 123 61
10 CAR 55 24 21 10 131 143 58
11 MTL 56 27 25 4 151 151 58
12 PHI 53 24 20 9 127 138 57
13 OTT 56 25 25 6 157 173 56
14 BUF 56 22 28 6 131 155 50
15 CBJ 56 22 28 6 140 173 50
16 TOR 53 19 25 9 122 149 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Faulk 54 15 19 -13 34
J. Skinner 55 19 12 -3 31
V. Rask 53 12 19 0 31
J. Staal 55 12 19 7 31
K. Versteeg 54 10 21 1 31
E. Staal 55 9 21 1 30
E. Lindholm 55 8 16 -9 24
A. Nestrasil 48 8 12 0 20
J. Nordstrom 44 5 10 2 15
R. Hainsey 55 3 11 -12 14
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 15 11 7 .909 2.34
E. Lack 9 10 3 .901 2.74
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