Tracking the Storm

Gameday: Canes Realize Importance of Divisional Games

Saturday, 02.25.2012 / 11:42 AM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Michael Smith
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Gameday: Canes Realize Importance of Divisional Games
The RBC Center lost power this morning, cutting the Carolina Hurricanes’ morning skate short mid-drill. But don’t expect that to disrupt their energy heading into tonight’s matchup with the Florida Panthers.

Michael Smith
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In what is a bit of a scheduling quirk, tonight marks the first of four remaining games between the Southeast Division opponents. The Hurricanes currently trail the Panthers by eight points in the standings. You do the math.

“Morning skates are really just formalities,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “I think our guys know the importance of tonight, anyway. They’ve got energy, and they’ll save it for tonight.”

“These are the games that are probably going to make the difference whether we get above that red line on the standings board or stay below it,” forward Tim Brent said. “We’re a pretty confident group, especially at home lately. We’ve been playing really well.”

Though the standings board in the locker room went dark for awhile earlier in the season, it’s been updated daily for a over a month now. It’s a constant reminder about where the team is positioned, and they’ve recently started to see tangible results as the red “Carolina” marker has begun to move upward.

“The standings board is right here in the locker room. It’s something you have to walk past everyday to get to your seat,” Brent said. “We’re paying attention, but no body is really crunching the numbers. We’ve been focusing on the way that we’ve been performing and playing and letting that kind of take care of itself.”

Muller has been crunching the numbers, but he said it’s not that hard to figure out what the team needs to do in order to rise in the standings.

“We’ve been pushing hard and battling to stay in the mix with everybody,” he said. “Quietly, we haven’t gone away. Let’s be realistic. It’s not a no-brainer that if we’re going to keep climbing and get into the hunt, we’ve got to beat teams ahead of us.”

While having to beat teams ahead of them is a regular occurence for the 14th-place Canes, it becomes especially important tonight with a divisional opponent. The team believes its best chance to make the playoffs is to win the division. Reason being, it is easier to climb over four teams than five or six, even more so when the point differential is comparable.

“All you can do is control your games,” Muller said. “What happens with teams above you, you can’t control that. We’ve been picking up points since the All-Star break, and I think we’re playing good hockey right now.”

The Panthers have gotten the better of the Hurricanes thus far this season, winning both of the meetings. The first was Muller’s first game as head coach of the Canes, a 3-1 loss at the RBC Center. About three weeks later, the Canes dropped a 3-2 overtime decision in South Florida.

Florida comes in to tonight’s game winless in four straight (0-3-1). In that stretch, they’ve been outscored 12-5 (not counting the extra shootout goal credited to Minnesota), including a 2-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. After losing in a shootout to the Wild on Thursday, the Panthers dropped out of the Southeast Division lead, a position they’ve held for 85 days this season.

Jiri Tlusty, who will play despite not skating this morning, brings a nine-game point streak (4g, 6a) into the game. Eric Staal is riding a seven-game point streak (6g, 6a). Just one assist has been recorded against Florida this season between these two players, but that was then, and this is now. Since the two teams last met in December, Staal has recorded 30 points (11g, 19a); he now leads the team in scoring with 50 points (18g, 32a).

Justin Peters will get his third consecutive start in net, with Cam Ward still sidelined with a lower-body injury. That said, Ward could be making his return to the crease soon, despite not skating this morning.

“It was actually encouraging today,” Muller said. “I don’t want to say – because I don’t know for sure – Tuesday, but it’s looking good. We’re taking precautions, so I don’t want to rush it tonight.”

In his last three starts, Peters has made 87 saves on 91 shots, a .956 save percentage. He’s recorded two wins and a shootout loss (plus, a loss in relief of Ward on Feb. 18).

The importance of tonight’s game is magnified with a divisional opponent in town. But Muller said it boils down to another step in the team’s hunt to get back into the playoff picture.

“It really goes back to being a day-to-day team,” he said. “We go out for tonight’s game and give it all we’ve got, compete, play hard and stay focused. Then we wake up tomorrow and start all over again.”



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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - NYR 82 53 22 7 248 187 113
2 y - MTL 82 50 22 10 214 184 110
3 x - TBL 82 50 24 8 259 206 108
4 x - WSH 82 45 26 11 237 199 101
5 x - NYI 82 47 28 7 245 224 101
6 x - DET 82 43 25 14 231 211 100
7 x - OTT 82 43 26 13 232 208 99
8 x - PIT 82 43 27 12 217 204 98
9 BOS 82 41 27 14 209 201 96
10 FLA 82 38 29 15 198 213 91
11 CBJ 82 42 35 5 227 248 89
12 PHI 82 33 31 18 212 223 84
13 NJD 82 32 36 14 176 209 78
14 CAR 82 30 41 11 183 219 71
15 TOR 82 30 44 8 206 257 68
16 BUF 82 23 51 8 153 269 54

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
E. Staal 77 23 31 -13 54
J. Faulk 82 15 34 -19 49
E. Lindholm 81 17 22 -23 39
V. Rask 80 11 22 -14 33
J. Skinner 77 18 13 -24 31
N. Gerbe 78 10 18 -14 28
R. Nash 68 8 17 -10 25
J. Staal 46 6 18 -6 24
J. Liles 57 2 20 -9 22
J. McClement 82 7 14 -7 21
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 22 24 5 .910 2.40
A. Khudobin 8 17 6 .900 2.72