Eric Staal, Erik Cole, Jussi Jokinen

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.

Video: Flyers lose Schultz after big hit from McIlrath

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It looks like the injury bug has taken another chunk out of the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Flyers, who are already without Mark Streit, Ryan White and R.J. Umberger, have now lost Nick Schultz to injury.

Schultz left Saturday’s game against the Rangers in the first period after taking a hit from Rangers defenseman Dylan McIlrath.

Luke Schenn went after McIlrath right after he delivered the hit and both players dropped the gloves.

Schultz did not return.

You can watch the entire sequence by clicking on the video at the top of the page.

The 33-year-old has just one assist in 23 games, but he leads the Flyers in blocked shots with 54.

Goalie nods: Bernier has a ‘huge’ opportunity to prove himself vs. Caps

Jonathan Bernier
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Jonathan Bernier hasn’t been very good in ’15-16, but he’ll have a great opportunity to right the ship on Saturday night.

Facing the Washington Capitals is never an easy task if you’re a goaltender, of course, but Bernier can’t afford to be picky with his chances.

The 27-year-old is still looking for his first win of the season, as he has an overall record of 0-7-1. His 3.17 goals-against-average and a .895 save percentage are just as bad as his record.

Starter James Reimer is out tonight after suffering an injury in practice and although Bernier probably can’t win the starting job with just one good game, a solid performance would go a long way.

He’ll go head-to-head with Capitals goalie Braden Holtby.


Cory Schneider will face the Habs for the second time in two nights. The Canadiens are expected to go with Dustin Tokarski, but that hasn’t been confirmed. Montreal beat New Jersey, 3-2, in a shootout on Friday.

-The Islanders have yet to confirm a starter, but they’ll likely go up against Ben Bishop on Saturday night.

-Expect Linus Ullmark to go up against Pekka Rinne when the Sabres and Predators clash in Nashville. Rinne is on a season-high four-game losing streak.

-The Oilers may turn to Anders Nilsson against the Penguins. Pittsburgh will decide between giving Marc-Andre Fleury two starts in two nights or going with Jeff Zatkoff.

-The Stars, like Pittsburgh, will have to decide if they want to give Antti Niemi a second game in two nights. They will be going up against Devan Dubnyk and the Minnesota Wild on Saturday.

Sergei Bobrovsky will get the start in Saturday’s game against the St. Louis Blues. He was solid in a 2-1 OT win over the Penguins on Friday night. The Blues will counter with starter Jake Allen.

-The Jets have yet to confirm a starter in Denver. They’ll be going up against Semyon Varlamov, who was pulled in Wednesday’s game against Ottawa after he allowed three goals on 15 shots.

Craig Anderson will look to win his fifth straight game when the Senators take on Arizona. The ‘Yotes still haven’t named a starter.

Jonas Hiller is likely to get the start against San Jose, while the Sharks will definitely be countering with starter Martin Jones. The Sharks goaltender is coming off a loss to the ‘Hawks, but previously won five in a row.

Scott Darling will put his 2-2-1 record on the line against the Kings. Jonathan Quick will probably be between the pipes for the Kings. Quick has a 7-15-1 record against the ‘Hawks in his career.

The verdict is in: Dubinsky gets one game for cross-checking Crosby


Brandon Dubinsky has been suspended one game for his cross-check to the back of Sidney Crosby‘s neck.

The incident took place during the second period of Friday’s game.

Crosby did head to the locker room after the play, but he was able to return.

When deciding on the number of games to give Dubinsky, here’s what the NHL took into account:

  1. Dubinsky delivered a clear cross-check.
  2. Dubinsky has been fined before, but never suspended.
  3. Crosby wasn’t seriously injured on the play.

“In this case, while Dubinsky’s cross-check isn’t overly violent or forceful, it is an intentional strike to an opponent’s head using his stick,” the NHL said in their explanation of the play. “This is not a case where the head contact was caused by a sudden movement by Crosby or by a stick riding up a player’s back or shoulders and making subsequent contact with the head.”

Click on the video at the top of the page to watch the NHL’s full explanation.

The Blue Jackets take on the Blues in St. Louis tonight.

Ready to Roll: Oilers activate Schultz from IR, send down Reinhart

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The Edmonton Oilers activated defenseman Justin Schultz off injured reserve and assigned Griffin Reinhart to the minors.

Schultz has missed the last 14 games because of a back injury, but he’ll suit up in Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The 25-year-old has one assist and a minus-6 rating in nine games in ’15-16.

Here’s his interview with Oilers TV from earlier today:

Reinhart was acquired in an off-season trade with the New York Islanders this summer.

The former fourth overall pick has no points and a minus-1 rating in 12 games with the Oilers.