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As the Hurricanes get ready to extend their current two-game winning streak, their first in over a month, they’ll have to do so with a few changes to their lineup.
Both defenseman David Tanabe and forward Chad LaRose sustained concussions in the Toronto game and will be out indefinitely. Both failed tests before Wednesday morning’s practice and will not make the upcoming road trip through Florida and Tampa Bay, which begins Thursday night.
Also, winger Craig Adams has been suspended two games by the NHL for his high stick on Toronto’s Alexander Steen with just under four minutes to go in the third period. Adams said he didn’t do it intentionally, but the league deemed extra discipline was necessary due to reckless use of the stick.
While those three will all be out of the lineup, there should be good news coming that will help balance out some of the bad. With an AHL call-up seemingly not in the plans before Thursday, that means that the three players who missed the Toronto game, Rod Brind’Amour, Mike Commodore and Andrew Ladd, could all return in time to face the Panthers.
Brind’Amour will make the trip to Florida and is hopeful to play despite remaining in quarantine during Wednesday’s practice. Ladd has skated the last few days after also going through a nasty bout of the flu that he picked up on his conditioning stint with Albany, while Commodore continues to get closer to recovering from the broken finger that has kept him out of the lineup for the last 12 games.
No matter who plays, the Hurricanes hope that their recent trend of winning games in dramatic fashion helps build the momentum that will allow them to pick up some valuable points against their Southeast Division opponents.
“We know how big it is,” said Glen Wesley of Thursday’s game against the Panthers. “They’re probably playing the best that they’ve played all season long, and we know how big of a game it is and the magnitude of it. We’re going to have to be prepared down there.”
Indeed, the Panthers have climbed in the standings lately after winning three of their last four games, all on the road, and eight of their last 13 overall. They are now in second place in the Southeast and just five points behind the Hurricanes – a lead that could either grow or shrink considerably, depending on the outcome of Thursday’s game.
The game will already be the fifth of eight total meetings between the teams this season, with the Hurricanes holding a 3-1-0 edge in the season series thus far. Combined with last year’s dominance by Carolina in their head-to-head match-ups, the Hurricanes hold a 10-2-0 record in the last 12 meetings overall.
“We’ve had our success against them, but they’ve played fairly well and especially recently they’ve won a few games in a row,” said coach Peter Laviolette. “I think with that they can gain confidence. They’re always a good challenge for us. They always compete and there seems to be a little bit of animosity between the two teams that brings out the best in each other.”
Laviolette rarely discloses his goaltending choices prior to game time, but John Grahame has recently been making the case for more playing time. The veteran backup has been in goal for both of Carolina’s recent wins, while usual starter Cam Ward was in the net for the three losses before that.
Grahame stopped 36 shots in the win over Toronto, including several key saves that kept Carolina in the game before they started their comeback by scoring twice in the final 1:25 of regulation.
“I think he played really sharp last night,” said Laviolette of Grahame. “His biggest save came when it was 2-0 and we had to kill the power play with four minutes to go in the game. If he doesn’t make that save, it’s 3-0 and the game is over. That was a very critical point in the game for him to keep us alive at that point.”
“A goaltender’s job is just to hold the team in it until they’re able to get some goals,” said Grahame. “It took us a little bit longer than maybe we would have liked last night, but all in all it was a great team effort by the guys and they were able to fight right until the end, get those two goals in the end and win it in overtime. It was a big win for us.”