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Gameday: Important Pair of Games Left Before Break

Friday, 02.7.2014 / 12:30 PM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Michael Smith
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Gameday: Important Pair of Games Left Before Break
Two games separate the Carolina Hurricanes from the Olympic break, and it’s a set of two very important games as it relates to the standings and playoff positioning.

Michael Smith
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The Hurricanes come into Friday’s contest versus the Florida Panthers sitting in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division with 59 points (25-21-9). But that’s a bit deceiving, as the Canes are a victim of games played; they currently hold at least two and as many as four games in hand on all teams in their division.

But games in hand are only meaningful if they’re taken advantage of.

“No sugar coating it. These are two big games,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “We’re at home, and they’re games-in-hand that we’ve got to take advantage of. They’re not going to be easy.”

Just to illustrate what winning games in hand could mean for the Canes: should they collect four out of a possible four points in this back-to-back set, they would jump to 63 points (27-21-9), which presently would leave them a point out of a divisional playoff spot, still with a game in hand.

“It’s an important game for us,” Muller said. “We’re fresh and at home, and we should take advantage of jumping out on an opponent when they’ve played the night before.”

The Canes will open this back-to-back set against Florida, who suffered a 3-1 loss to Detroit in South Florida last night, as they catch the Cats on the tail end of a back-to-back. Tonight will mark the beginning of the 14th of 20 back-to-backs for the Canes this season; thus far, the Canes are 8-4-1 in the front half, including a perfect 5-0-0 in January, and 4-6-3 in the back half.

“They played last night, so you want to catch a team when they come in on a back-to-back,” Muller said. “As we know, we’ve had our fair share of them so far.”

The Canes saw their three-game home winning streak snapped on Tuesday in a stinging 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. But two days of practice in between then and now have the team feeling confident and focused in their game plan.

“We’re having success when we really take advantage of the 60 minutes. We’re not a big, physical team, but we’re a good puck-moving, skating team. For us to wear teams down, we’ve got to put pucks in the right areas,” Muller said. “We take the hesitation out of our game, skate and get to pucks first. When we do that … we have more puck possession and we spend more time in the offensive zone.”

Since moving to Raleigh at the outset of the 1999-2000 season, the Canes own a 29-7-4 home record against the Panthers. The Canes claimed victory in the first meeting between these two teams this season, a 3-2 win on Jan. 18 in which Alexander Semin scored twice in the third period.

In a couple of roster notes, the Canes are not expected to make any lineup changes, meaning Radek Dvorak and Mike Komisarek will be the healthy extras.

Tuomo Ruutu will skate in his 600th career NHL game, 372 of which will have been played with Carolina. Now in his 10th season, he’s posted 138 goals and 185 assists (323 points) in his career.

Anton Khudobin will make his eighth straight start in net, also marking his 16th consecutive appearance. He was named the NHL’s first star in the month of January, as he compiled a 10-4-0 record, a 2.19 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. In that stretch, he allowed two goals or fewer in nine appearances, and he has yet to surrender more than three goals in a game all season. In total, Khudobin owns a 12-5-0 record on the season with a 2.15 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage.

The Canes will don their black alternate uniforms for the ninth time this season tonight. They are 40-26-6 all-time in their third sweaters, including a 4-4-0 mark this season and a 3-1-0 record in their last four games. Two of those wins marked two of the most exhilarating games of the season, as the Canes defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 in overtime on New Year’s Eve and the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 on Jan. 27, both in dramatic comeback fashion.

An outcome similar to those would certainly send the team and fans home happy heading into the Olympic break.

“The guys have to push hard and give it all for the next two days,” Muller said. “You want to finish on a good note so that everyone is excited for when the time comes that we’re back practicing.”



SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Skinner 82 28 23 -2 51
V. Rask 80 21 27 -6 48
J. Staal 82 20 28 6 48
E. Lindholm 82 11 28 -23 39
J. Faulk 64 16 21 -22 37
K. Versteeg 63 11 22 -6 33
E. Staal 63 10 23 -3 33
J. Nordstrom 71 10 14 1 24
A. Nestrasil 55 9 14 4 23
R. Nash 64 9 13 -5 22
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 23 17 10 .909 2.41
E. Lack 12 14 6 .901 2.81