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After a summer longer than anyone had hoped for and the rigors of the training camp that followed, it’s finally time to drop the puck on the 2007-08 season.
The Montreal Canadiens are in town to help the Hurricanes open their 10th Anniversary Season on home ice (7 p.m., NHL Center Ice, Hurricanes Radio Network, Tickets). Carolina, healthy and fresh off a successful training camp and preseason, can feel good about where they stand prior to the opening faceoff.
This year’s exhibition record of 4-1-1 represents the best in the team’s 10-year history in terms of winning percentage. But wins picked up before the season don’t matter…or do they?
Two years ago, the Hurricanes stormed out of the gates in their first game with a 6-0 win over Washington en route to a 5-2-1 preseason record and eventually, a Stanley Cup. Last year, the ‘Canes were 1-4-0 in exhibition play and ended up missing the playoffs.
While preseason results will never be the most scientific or reliable way to predict regular season play, the confidence instilled on the team from winning these games can carry over into the games that matter.
“You obviously can’t win Stanley Cups in training camp,” said Hurricanes Head Coach Peter Laviolette. “But what you can do in training camp is establish good work ethic, you can practice hard and you can play games to win, and I think what that does is establish confidence with your team. It establishes the right mindset, the right attitude and the right feel in the locker room. When that happens, you can take that and use that to your advantage.”
Minus a few possible tweaks, Carolina will have the same lineup in the game against Montreal as they did in their last preseason game, an emotional nine-round shootout win over the Columbus Blue Jackets that featured four fights, plenty of other rough stuff and a late equalizer by Erik Cole in the dying minutes of regulation.
While that game may not have mattered in the standings, you sure couldn’t tell that from the reactions of the Hurricanes players after winning.
“After the game people were saying it felt like a playoff game with the atmosphere,” said goaltender Cam Ward. “It’s great to see the emotion out of the guys. Guys are hungry this year and they’re ready to go.”
Ward, who made 37 saves during regulation play and overtime, made nine more stops in the shootout and even picked up a roughing penalty to boot, thinks that game will be a good one to build on heading into the regular season opener.
”Even though it’s an exhibition game, you take those things seriously and hope to improve on such things as the shootout,” he said. “Guys played well, it was a great atmosphere at home for the last exhibition game, and I imagine it’ll get better and better as the season goes on.”
Ward, who has repeatedly claimed to be in the best shape of his life after losing 20 pounds this offseason, was a big reason as to why the ‘Canes were able to have such a successful preseason.
His 0.77 goals against average and .971 save percentage rank him third and fourth in the league, respectively. He also earned a shutout against Nashville on September 21.
“I think this is the most ready I’ve ever been going into a regular season,” he said. “I think it’s fair to say that I’m in the best shape that I’ve ever been in my entire life. I felt really comfortable out there on the ice, and hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.”
“You have to like what you’ve seen so far,” said Laviolette of his starting goalie.
Ward and the rest of the Hurricanes will hope to carry their preseason success into the game against Montreal, who they’ve won 11 of their past 14 games against, including a 4-2 victory in the opening round of the 2006 playoffs.
”I can say man for man that guys enjoy playing against Montreal, enjoy playing up there and playing against any Canadian team or an original six team,” said defenseman Glen Wesley. “It’s a lot of fun.”