Kirk Muller

If only Hurricanes had more time …

To most, 82 regular season games is an awful lot for a sport as rugged as hockey. If you ask Kirk Muller, it’s a shame that at leastthis campaign wasn’t, say, 90-or-so games long.

When the News & Observer’s Luke DeCock asked Muller if the team would be a playoff team if only Muller had time, the coach responded “I do; I really do.” DeCock goes on to make some “What if?” insights and even compares the Muller turnaround to the renaissance the team experienced when it switched to Peter Laviolette during their Stanley Cup run.

The baffling loyalty of Peter Karmanos and Jim Rutherford to Paul Maurice has once again cost them millions of dollars — and cost this market the fun of another trip to the playoffs.

If only Maurice hadn’t been brought back after last season’s colossal failure; if only Muller had been brought in a week or two earlier, when there was still time to turn things around; if only. Alas, the damage was done, and now the Hurricanes are running out of time.

It’s easy to put too much stock into late runs, which all too often fail to carry over to the fall. The Hurricanes are hoping, as was the case in the spring of 2004 and the fall of 2005, after the season lost to the lockout, the tone set in the spring will be the tone taken in training camp.

As noted in this space many times, the similarities between the circumstances that led to winning the Stanley Cup and these circumstances — new coach, new attitude, new labor agreement — have not been lost on the players.

Carolina’s players took about a month or so to adjust to Muller’s message, but they’ve certainly been a more dangerous team once the calendar changed to 2012. The most obvious – and considering the top-heavy nature of the team, probably most important – changes come in the work of Eric Staal and Cam Ward. They went from wildly disappointing (and thus overpaid) to the kind of franchise cornerstones who seem capable of keeping the Hurricanes reasonably competitive from year-to-year.

If you ask the team, their coach and at least one of the local columnists, the Hurricanes now have a coach to be competitive – they’ll just have to wait until next season to prove it.

Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty

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Things were getting out of hand between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues on the scoreboard in an eventual 6-1 Blues win.

They were also getting a little raucous on the ice when it was clear that the Stars weren’t going to stage a comeback.

Jamie Benn was whistled for cross-checking Alex Pietrangelo, but it was Stephen Johns‘ hit from behind on Pietrangelo really revved up the violence.

Watch that hit and then the scrum that ensued in the video above, which included a scary display of an angry Ryan Reaves … who got creative at the end.

You may also want the kiss alone, so here it is:

Memo: rough stuff might not work so well against the Blues.

Read about that blowout here.

Blues bombard Stars, go up 2-1 in series

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Sometimes a final score is misleading. In the case of the St. Louis Blues’ 6-1 thrashing of the Dallas Stars, it might just be the start of the story.

Honestly, the most positive thing the Stars can say is “Well, at least it was just one game.”

It was one ugly game, however, and now the Blues hold a 2-1 series lead with a chance to really take control if they can win Game 4 at home.

The Blues dominated just about every category on Tuesday, firing more shots on goal, enjoying better special teams play and throwing more hits. They even blocked a higher number of shots, which often isn’t the case for the squad that carries play.

This leaves the Stars picking up the pieces, especially when it comes to their work in their own end.

Do you put greater blame on struggling goalies Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi or is this more about the Stars’ lax defensive coverage? The scary answer may be “Both,” and the Stars likely know that they need to find answers quickly.

On the bright side for Dallas, it is just one game … and the Blues were searching for answers of their own after Game 1.

We saw the Blues turn things around with these two straight wins, so now the Stars must show that they can gather themselves and play the attacking, out-score-your-mistakes style that got them here.

Granted, they may have to keep an eye out for supplemental discipline after some rough stuff toward the end of the game.

Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

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After a dispiriting 1-0 goal allowed by Pekka Rinne, things were looking bleak for the Nashville Predators for a moment there.

Nashville’s developed into a resilient group, however, and they stormed back for a commanding 4-1 win to shrink San Jose’s series advantage to 2-1.

The Predators saw some of their big names come up huge as the series shifted from San Jose to Nashville.

Pekka Rinne looked sharp following that first goal (and didn’t allow another). Their goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and captain Shea Weber.

Weber’s tally was the game-winner, and it was downright thunderous:

Another promising sign: after a struggling to a 2-for-31 clip in previous playoff games, the Predators’ power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3.

Overall, the Predators really couldn’t ask for much more from this win, especially if Colton Sissons is indeed OK after a scary crash into the Sharks’ net.

Things could get really interesting if Nashville manages to “hold serve” with another home win on Thursday.

Stars’ goalie carousel goes around again: Lehtonen replaces Niemi

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It’s pretty tough not to make jokes about the Dallas Stars spending $10.4 million on their goalies at times like these, even if Dallas’ defense should shoulder plenty of blame.

After Kari Lehtonen was pulled from a Game 2 loss, the St. Louis Blues chased Antti Niemi early in the second period of Game 3 after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

Troy Brouwer‘s 3-1 goal was enough for Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook:

Unfortunately for the Stars, Lehtonen got off to a slow start as well, allowing an immediate Vladimir Tarasenko goal.

The Blues are now 4-1 and the Stars are searching for answers … and probably wishing Tyler Seguin was around to help them out-score their problems.