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Canadiens vs. Hurricanes
Tracking the Storm

Gameday: Facing Elimination, Canes Not Worried About Tomorrow

Friday, 03.30.2012 / 12:30 PM / Tracking the Storm
By Michael Smith
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Gameday: Facing Elimination, Canes Not Worried About Tomorrow
Mathematics dictates that the Carolina Hurricanes could be officially eliminated from the playoff race tonight.

Michael Smith
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But don’t tell the team that.

The Canes know the cards are stacked against them, and with five games remaining, they could just as easily sleepwalk their way into a better draft position. Judging by the tempo of the morning skate and the mood of the locker room, however, that isn’t going to happen.

“We’re a team right now that’s confident. We’re having fun,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “It’s a good energy around here. The best thing is that there has been a lot of fight with our group for the last few months. They believe that they could stay in the race, and they’ve been battling every night.”

So much so that a win tonight over the Winnipeg Jets would vault the Hurricanes into 10th place in the Eastern Conference, a position the team hasn’t seen since the start of the season.

But even if that happens, if the Buffalo Sabres defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight, the Canes’ surge to 8th place would be mathematically halted, sealing a fate that has been looming for weeks. But to the Hurricanes’ credit, they haven’t let that slow them down. In fact, they’ve used it as motivation.

“Until we’re mathematically out, we’ve just got to keep pushing and do what we have to do,” Muller said. “Our guys are still going, still pushing. We’ve just got to control what we can control.”

What the team can control is who takes home the two points up for grabs tonight in the sixth and final meeting between these two divisional rivals. After the Jets won the first three meetings of the season, the Canes have rattled off two straight victories, most recently a come-from-behind 4-3 win at MTS Centre on March 18.

Eric Staal was a key force in that game, as he scored two goals and had the assist and a beauty of a screen on Chad LaRose’s game-winning goal with under two minutes left in regulation.

It’s no coincidence that the Hurricanes’ climb in the standings has been paired with Staal’s resurgence in offensive production. Since Jan. 1, Staal ranks tied for fifth in the League in scoring with 43 points (14g, 29a). He has 9 points (4g, 5a) in his last eight games, recording multiple points in three of those games, the Winnipeg game being one of them.

“From Christmas on, he’s been one of the top three forwards in the NHL,” Muller said.

Staal averages over 21 minutes of ice time per game, and that number has been enhanced by a minute or two of penalty kill time each game. In the last 10 games, the Canes’ penalty kill is 28-for-30 (93.3%).

“He’s made our power play better, he’s been one of our top penalty killers, he plays against all the best defenseman, five-on-five he’s a plus player and he takes key face-offs,” Muller said. “I don’t know what more you can ask from your top guy.”

Staal is one of just eight players in the League who has scored 25 goals in each season since the lockout; he currently has 23.

Cam Ward will get the nod in net tonight, his sixth straight start. Ward has recorded at least 30 wins in four of his six seasons with the team; during the other two, he was the back-up goaltender (2005-06) and suffered through a number of injuries (2009-10). Now in his seventh season, Ward is two wins shy of 30.

Muller said that Brian Boucher will get a start either Saturday night against New Jersey or Tuesday in Ottawa, a decision that will be made following tonight’s game.

“We’re just focused on today. I’m not really worried about tomorrow,” Muller said. “Our focus is on winning tonight.”



SCHEDULE

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AWAY
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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 PIT 32 22 6 4 102 72 48
2 NYI 33 23 10 0 104 91 46
3 MTL 34 21 11 2 92 83 44
4 TBL 35 20 11 4 113 93 44
5 DET 33 17 8 8 93 82 42
6 TOR 33 19 11 3 114 98 41
7 WSH 32 16 10 6 95 85 38
8 NYR 30 16 10 4 92 81 36
9 FLA 31 14 9 8 69 79 36
10 BOS 33 16 14 3 82 85 35
11 OTT 33 14 13 6 89 92 34
12 CBJ 32 14 15 3 79 102 31
13 PHI 32 12 14 6 88 96 30
14 NJD 35 12 17 6 77 102 30
15 BUF 33 13 18 2 63 105 28
16 CAR 32 9 19 4 68 91 22

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Faulk 32 6 14 -12 20
E. Staal 27 7 11 -10 18
J. Skinner 28 8 8 -3 16
R. Nash 32 4 12 -3 16
E. Lindholm 32 8 7 -7 15
J. Tlusty 28 10 3 -11 13
N. Gerbe 28 3 10 -2 13
A. Sekera 30 1 11 -7 12
C. Terry 23 6 3 -1 9
V. Rask 32 4 5 -7 9
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 9 12 2 .911 2.44
A. Khudobin 0 7 2 .892 3.11