Are Hurricanes set to make a move in Eastern Conference playoff race?

Tonight’s trip to Chicago marks the second game in an important back-to-back as the Carolina Hurricanes battle for one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Only one night after a thrilling overtime victory against the Sabres, a proverbial 4-point game, the Canes will face the surging Chicago Blackhawks in a game that both teams need to keep pace in their respective playoff races. Carolina will look to avoid a letdown as they try to chase down the Canadiens for the 6th spot.

Only a few weeks ago, the rumors around the league were that Carolina was going to be a seller at the deadline. Fast-forward to today and see that not only did the Hurricanes add a couple of players to the mix, but both Erik Cole and Joni Pitkanen are still members of their club. Just as we saw all over the league, parity will make teams switch roles quicker than we’ve ever seen.

Let’s take a look at what GM Jim Rutherford was able to do over the last few weeks. He jettisoned both Ian White and Sergei Samsonov who were treading water for the Canes and replaced them with players who are expected to contribute in Bryan Allen and Cory Stillman. Everyone knows the games down the stretch are harder fought with battles for every inch of ice. Allen and Stillman are exactly the type of players who thrive when the game gets more physical.

Clearly, the Canes aren’t the type of team that is going to strike fear into the hearts of fans around the league. But as Rutherford says, they’re a better team than they get credit for:

“I know there are better teams out there on paper than we are, but there might’ve been better teams on paper than we were in ’06, too,” Rutherford said in reference to Carolina’s championship season. “If you get the right breaks and play the right teams and all the things that you need to do come through in the playoffs, we have a structure here that would give us a chance to have a much more successful season than I think people would have thought we would have.”

The Hurricanes recent success in the playoffs speaks to the way Rutherford builds teams. Since the lockout, they’ve made it to the Eastern Conference Finals twice and won the Cup in 2006. Then again, the other three seasons Carolina didn’t even make the playoffs. The moral of the story? Opponents better hope they don’t make the playoffs because they’ll probably make noise if they do.

The secret that Rutherford seems to have figured out is the way he builds his teams. Down the middle, they have three centers who are extremely tough to play against. Brandon Sutter’s game looks like it was created specifically to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Their top line with Eric Staal, Erik Cole, and Cory Stillman has proven it can survive the rigors of the playoffs, wear down the other team, and emerge victorious in a 7-game series. Stay-at-home defensemen Bryan Allen and Tim Gleason are great compliments to Joni Pitkanen, rookie Jaime McBain, and Joe Corvo. The team is built to spread the responsibility around and not rely too heavily on a player or two.

There’s not doubt that Carolina has been a picture of mediocrity with their 6-6-3 record since the All-Star break. So why are we talking about the Canes as a team that could make a move down the stretch? Jim Rutherford. That’s why. With two mid-level deals he completely changed the face of his squad. The return of Stillman gives the Canes a formidable top-line and should help their struggling power play. He has 3 points in his 4 games since arriving in Raleigh and has helped create a few more goals for the team. Bryan Allen can play the tough minutes on the PK and instantly gives Carolina the depth on their blueline that they’ll need. The guys over at the Hurricanes blog Canes Country agree:

“It can’t be overstated how important it is to keep your defense fresh down the stretch. With a night of travel and a game Friday on tap for the Canes, having their defenders evenly sharing the workload should do a world of good compared to running Pitkanen and Corvo into the ground with ice times creeping toward 30 minutes. Throw in the fact they were able to do it in the biggest game of the year [vs. Buffalo], and GM Jim Rutherford has to be thrilled with how his changes on D have morphed the way Carolina approaches its game management.”

It’s hard not to like their top two lines and their defensive corps depth. Calder Trophy candidate Jeff Skinner is leading the NHL in rookie scoring with 22 goals and 26 assists. Tuomo Ruutu has 45 points while being a complete pain to play against and Chad LaRose has always had the knack of scoring big goals in his career.

On the occasion that the 18 guys on the ice aren’t getting it done, an all-star and Conn Smythe winning goaltender is always there to pick up the team. Even though he’s facing over 32 shots per game, Cam Ward still owns a .920 save percentage.

Exactly the kind of guy a team would want if they were looking to make a run towards the playoffs. Correction: exactly the kind of team to make a run towards the playoffs.

Gibson skates, could start as Ducks face elimination in Nashville

Getty
Leave a comment

John Gibson, who exited Game 5 of the Anaheim-Nashville series with a lower-body injury, could be back in the Ducks’ goal tonight for Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena.

Gibson participated in today’s morning skate, and was the first goalie to exit. Jonathan Bernier, who came on in relief on Saturday and allowed two goals on 18 shots, stayed out for extra work.

“When they skate, usually that leads you to believe that there is a great opportunity for him to play,” head coach Randy Carlyle said at Monday’s media availability. “But I haven’t talked to [Gibson]. We’ll wait until he is off the ice and has a conversation with the training staff.

“And then we’ll make a decision based off that.”

Gibson has been solid, if unspectacular, for the Ducks this postseason. His numbers (2.59 GAA, .918 save percentage) are somewhat pedestrian, but he’s been a calm, steadying influence for his team.

Bernier has also been good for the Ducks this year, though his playoff body of work is limited. Game 5 was just his third appearance of the postseason, and he’s never started a Stanley Cup playoff game before.

Report: Thornton knee injury mostly MCL, not ACL damage

Getty
Leave a comment

A fairly significant development regarding the health of veteran Sharks forward Joe Thornton, from NBC Sports California:

Thornton apparently dodged disaster in terms of his left knee, as multiple sources have told NBC Sports California that the brunt of the damage was to his MCL, not his ACL.

As long as he recovers fully, as expected, there’s reason to believe that Thornton could be better next season than he was in 2016-17.

Thornton, who turns 38 in July, suffered the tears on Apr. 2 against Vancouver. He sat out the final three games of the regular season and the first two of the playoffs before returning in Game 3 of the Oilers series. Playing through the pain, Thornton registered two points over four games while averaging just under 19 minutes per night.

“I’ve never seen a guy play with a torn MCL and ACL,” head coach Peter DeBoer said following the series. “It’s a courageous effort as I’ve ever seen.”

That gutsy performance further endeared Thornton to the Bay Area faithful, and he was pretty beloved to begin with. It also clearly made an impact on his head coach.

Those are just two of the many facets that promise to make up a compelling summer.

Thornton just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M cap hit. He’s played exclusively on three-year contracts since coming to San Jose more than a decade ago, and TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported in January the Thornton camp is looking for another.

From Sharks GM Doug Wilson’s perspective, he’ll have to factor in Thornton’s recovery and long-term health outlook to any potential extension. Wilson also has a timing issue at play, as it would behoove the Sharks to sign Thornton after June’s expansion draft, so they don’t have to protect him.

Finally, there’s the added factor of Thornton’s longtime running mate in San Jose, Patrick Marleau, also needing a new contract.

Thornton’s situation does appear the more complex one. Some will argue his down ’16-17 campaign — one in which he only scored seven goals and 50 points — was a sign of father time catching up.

Others will counter it was the byproduct of a brutally long ’15-16, one in which Thornton went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final (and had 21 points in 24 games, it should be noted), then had a short summer before joining Team Canada for the World Cup of Hockey.

Karlsson, Brassard and Ceci all good to go in Game 6 for Senators

Getty
1 Comment

Trailing by five goals entering the third period on Sunday evening, Ottawa Senators coach Guy Boucher decided he was going to shorten his bench and protect some of his most important players from further injury. So defensemen Erik Karlsson and Cody Ceci, as well as forward Derick Brassard, were given the entire third period off (after the game Karlsson said he could have played if needed).

On Monday, Boucher confirmed that all three players will be ready to go for Tuesday’s Game 6 with the Senators facing elimination in the Eastern Conference Final.

Karlsson was playing through a fractured foot earlier this postseason and appeared to be shaken up late in the second period on Sunday when he awkwardly fell to the ice during a tie up along the boards. Brassard was shaken up following a hit coming through the neutral zone from Penguins forward Chris Kunitz.

Boucher also added that defenseman Mark Borowiecki, who has not played since Game 2 of their first-round series against the Boston Bruins, is “possible” to play on Tuesday while forward Alex Burrows is not as likely to play.

Before Game 5 Boucher said that Borowiecki was getting close to a return but was not quite ready yet on Sunday. He talked about what he could potentially bring to the lineup when he does get back.

“I mean, he’s the number one hitter in the League. He’s a heat-seeking missile, that’s what he is,” Boucher said. “So, you know, it usually puts the opponents on their heels. It’s better for the tough players to get some ice around him. He’s one of those guys that creates fear in the opponent. That’s what he did all year. I mean, we’re missing it, but at the same time we’re getting something else from other players.”

Sunday’s game, a 7-0 loss, was easily the Senators’ worst one of the postseason and on Monday Boucher seemed to attribute it to his team getting too excited and getting away from its game.

“We have to play to our strengths,” said Boucher on Monday. “Last game we tried to play run and gun with the best offensive team and we got slapped.”

Following the game on Sunday Boucher was asked if that type of game can leave a mark, a question that Boucher dismissed by citing the Senators’ blowout win over Pittsburgh in Game 3 and his team’s ability to rebound from tough losses earlier this postseason.

“Did it leave a mark on Pittsburgh when we did that to them at home? They won the next game,” said Boucher on Sunday. “In the playoffs, just like the season, your ability to rebound from a great game or a really bad game is necessary. We’ve done it all year. We’ve done it in the playoffs. After the fourth game against the Rangers, we were supposedly done, so, rebound, get ready for the next one.”

Game 6 is Tuesday night in Ottawa at 8 p.m. ET.

 

No hearing scheduled for Wingels after Wilson headshot (Updated)

22 Comments

Ottawa forward Tommy Wingels doesn’t have a disciplinary hearing scheduled for his late game headshot on Pittsburgh’s Scott Wilson, an NHL spokesman confirmed.

The incident occurred with seconds remaining in the Penguins’ 7-0 Game 5 win on Sunday afternoon. Wingels wasn’t penalized on the play, and Wilson exited the ice immediately without celebrating with teammates as the final horn sounded.

Pens head coach Mike Sullivan was asked about Wilson’s condition in his postgame presser, but didn’t have an update. The 25-year-old did not participate in today’s optional skate.

Update:

Wilson has appeared in 13 of Pittsburgh’s 17 games this postseason, and chipped in nicely. He’s scored two goals — including one in yesterday’s blowout win — and four points, while averaging just under 11 minutes per night.

Wingels has been less of a factor for Ottawa. He’s appeared in just nine of 17 games, going pointless while getting 9:53 TOI.