You could say the Hurricanes really need this one. Post-lockout hockey is funny that way: Just 120 days ago their fans were debating whether the 2010-11 season would take a true "rebuild" tack, or if "playoff chase" and "rebuild" could be mutually non-exclusive, what with the team hanging just outside the East's top eight at the time. Now they're still right there -- right there -- with two teams blocking them from above (Sabres, Smurfs), and a trio of other non-quitters (Atlanta, Toronto, New Jersey) chasing their tail. If I were a betting man I'd put money on the East's top 8 today making it. But it's very tight, there's always a surprise. There's a reason I'm not a betting man.
Not that I expect the Islanders to stop them -- Bossy knows the Hurricanes tend to have their way with the Isles, to the tune of 15-3-3 and countless blowouts. But Carolina lately has scoring issues and is too often dependent on Cam Ward saving the day (33.2 shots against per game). The Canes, for their part, believe they're getting their chances and just need their luck to turn. A 1-for-31 powerplay slump will make anyone feel unlucky. Weird things happen when playoff dreams are on the line.
A statement about the narratives for both teams' seasons: Each averages 2.73 goals per game, but of course the Islanders have been pumping in over three goals per game for a month to climb to that average, while the Hurricanes have been putting in under two goals per game for the whole of March to drop there.
Links and Lineup Notes
- Why the Canes feel slumpy: They've got one win in their last six, and that was a 1-0 win over Buffalo.
Al Montoya gets the start. No doubt Ward, with 63 games played and 3600 minutes already, is at the other end.
- That would seem to hint that Rick DiPietro returns for Florida tomorrow. I'm glad they spared him the chance to repeat this.
- As mentioned yesterday, Jesse Joensuu returns. Look for him on the third line with Blake Comeau and Josh Bailey.
- A better reflection of this matchup under Jack Capuano was the Jan. 26 4-2 loss at home, when Carolina got two quick goals to make it 3-1 in the second, then extended the lead in the third.
- NYI FYI on Rick DiPietro's return.
- The official site preview with quotes, mainly from Moulson.
- The glory of home? The Isles are 0-2-3 in their last five on the road, with three OT losses.
The irreplaceable Eric Hornick with "the only stat you need to know" about tonight's game:
Man Games Lost:
Islanders: 494 to injury, + 21 to suspension = 515
It's tempting to look at Canes shooting figures and Ward standing on his head and all those games lost to injury (particularly Mark Streit, Kyle Okposo, Andrew MacDonald and Milan Jurcina...and the goalies) and think these teams are closer than they appear.
But for whatever reason, it seems no matter what form the Hurricanes are in Eric Staal lights it up and the whole teams skates right on by the Isles. A Canes win puts them in a tie with Buffalo (who'd still have two games in hand). An Isles win puts them in a tie with Florida (who'd have one game in hand). Which script plays out tonight?
Down on the Farm
[Update: If you haven't left a FIG in a while, they don't go here!] Leave your First Islanders Goal (FIG) picks in this FanShot here. Follow the rules and have fun with it.