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Can Canes weather next season’s division change?

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Life wasn’t always that easy for the Carolina Hurricanes in the relatively cushy (and defunct) Southeast Division, so what will happen now that they’re in what could be a blistering Metropolitan Division?

If you judge the situation based on the past alone, it doesn’t look great for Carolina.

That being said, one shouldn’t dismiss the Hurricanes’ talent. Plenty of teams would be glad to boast a core that includes Eric and Jordan Staal, Cam Ward, Alexander Semin, Jeff Skinner and so on. Much went wrong for Carolina last season, yet if a few things turn, the Canes could be a far more formidable team.

Still, the situation seems foreboding on paper. Consider their division mates:

Columbus – Maybe the most mysterious team in the division, if not the NHL. Still, it’s tough to deny the optimism surrounding a team that is adding star power and employs the reigning Vezina Trophy winner in Sergei Bobrovsky.

New Jersey – No doubt about it, losing Ilya Kovalchuk hurts. Still, this team quietly put up great puck possession numbers last season but had bad luck scoring goals and preventing them in 2013. The Devils could be dangerous if they can replace Kovalchuk by free agent committee and if more bounces go their way in 2013-14.

NY Islanders – Sure, they mainly stood in place this offseason, but the Isles seem like they’re on the upswing lately. GM Garth Snow has quietly developed into one of the league’s most underrated executives.

NY Rangers – There’s some turmoil (contract years, coaching changes) in the Big Apple, although that pressure could actually yield some fantastic results. At worst, they should be a playoff contender.

Philadelphia – There’s no denying the Flyers’ flaws, yet Philly could very well top Carolina in its strongest area (offensive creativity) while being comparable in their shared area of greatest weakness (playing defense).

Pittsburgh – It’s easy to lose sight of the Penguins’ regular season dominance amid fairly steady drama, but most will probably peg them as the favorites.

Washington – While Carolina couldn’t exploit the Southeast, the Caps must be a little forlorn to see it go. Washington seems primed to be in the mix, especially if Mikhail Grabovski is as much of a steal as “fancy stat” lovers believe.

Looking at Carolina’s neighbors, how many of those situations look worse than the Hurricanes’ predicament? Maybe one or two?

For the Hurricanes to return to playoff contention, they’ll need to prove they can stick with some tough competition. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if a few of those teams fall on their faces, too …

More Hurricanes Day at PHT fun

Carolina leans on Cam Ward

Will the defense get better?

It could all come down to three signings

Devils unveil ‘The Salute’ statue in honor of Martin Brodeur

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The New Jersey Devils on Monday unveiled ‘The Salute’ — a statue paying homage to one of the greatest goalies in NHL history, Martin Brodeur, who will have his No. 30 uniform retired Tuesday at Prudential Center.

“Looking at the pictures of my career and some of the events that meant a lot to me, I always saluted the fans,” Brodeur, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Devils, told the Fire and Ice blog.

“That picture, at different times, in different jerseys, actually, like with Team Canada, it all came to that same pose.”

More on the statue from the Devils:

The 900-pound bronze statue was created by renowned sculpture and artist Jon Krawczyk, who worked with Brodeur on the design. Krawczyk, a Boonton Township, N.J. native and lifelong Devils fan, who also created the hockey statue on Championship Plaza outside of Prudential Center, personally drove “The Salute” from his Malibu, Cali. studio to the arena late last week.

Video: Panthers furious after Abdelkader ‘cheap shot’ hit on Barkov

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The Florida Panthers are fuming after their skilled 20-year-old forward Aleksander Barkov left Monday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings following a hit from Justin Abdelkader.

Abdelkader caught Barkov with a hard hit near the goal line as the Panthers player tried to move the puck up ice early in the second period.

The only call on the play was to Panthers’ blue liner Alex Petrovic for the retaliatory cross check on Abdelkader. Barkov left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury.

Members of the Panthers irate with the hit, and the fact there was no call.

“It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald. “It was frustrating, the whole bench felt that way. We’re not happy with it. It turned the game around. Barkov has tough shoes to fill. It looked pretty serious. We’ll see how the league handles it and I think they will. I just don’t know how it wasn’t handled on the ice.”

“You hate to lose your top player, but that’s part of the game,” added Panthers’ head coach Gerard Gallant.

“We’re disappointed to lose him. I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way and explained to me it was a clean check. It’s tough. It happens quick and we get to see the replay. I think it’ll be looked at. [Abdelkader] left his feet a little and got him in the jaw.”

The Panthers gave up three goals in the third period in a 3-0 loss to the Red Wings.

Penguins thump the Ducks as Crosby’s hot streak continues

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In a meeting between two clubs enjoying hot streaks and their own subsequent climbs through the standings, the Pittsburgh Penguins bested the Anaheim Ducks courtesy another dominant Sidney Crosby performance on Monday.

After that slow start, Crosby has put together a growing number of dominant performances of late.

The latest, a four-point night, helped the Penguins to a 6-2 final over the Ducks, stopping Anaheim’s winning streak at six games.

— He extended his scoring streak to a career best seven games, and did so with two beauty goals versus the Ducks.

— From Dec. 18 to Feb. 8, he’s appeared in 21 games. In that span, he’s recorded 34 points.

— Crosby is now into the top five among NHL players in points, with 53 in 51 games this season.

He wasn’t the only Pittsburgh player to have a big night. Keep in mind, Evgeni Malkin wasn’t even in the lineup due to a lower-body injury.

Ten different Penguins players recorded points. In addition to Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang had multi-point efforts, and four players — Kunitz, Crosby, Olli Maatta and Patric Hornqvist — were plus-four.

The Penguins now move into third in the Metropolitan Division, while the New York Islanders slip into the first Wild Card spot in the East. Pittsburgh’s lead over the Islanders, however, is only one point.

The Islanders also have a game in hand.

Panthers’ Barkov (upper-body injury) leaves game versus Red Wings

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The Florida Panthers will be without Aleksander Barkov for the remainder of their game versus the Detroit Red Wings on Monday.

As per multiple reports, Barkov will not return due to an upper-body injury suffered after a hit from Justin Abdelkader early in the second period.

Abdelkader wasn’t given a penalty on the play. Barkov didn’t play another shift after that hit.

In 42 games this season, the 20-year-old Barkov has 16 goals and 35 points.