A Carolina Hurricanes blog with occasional news about the rest of the NHL.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Williams, Whitney set for return

Justin Williams was cleared for full contact practice on Monday. He made it through the full practice with no complications. After missing 43 games with torn ligaments (both the MCL and the ACL) in his left knee, "Viva" is listed as "probable" for tomorrow's huge game against the Capitals. Read Luke Decock's N&O story here.

Ray Whitney, who has missed the last 12 games with a bad ankle, is also slated for a return to the lineup on Tuesday. He left practice early on Monday, but is still hopeful for play against Washington. Coach Laviolette has said that he won't mess with the chemistry of the top three lines. What this means is that Carolina could possibly have a fourth line of Ray Whitney/Jeff Hamilton/Justin Williams. That's a pretty damn good fourth line if you ask me.

If these two are a go for tomorrow, I expect that Joe Jensen and probably Tim Conboy will be sent back down to Albany.

I'm pretty excited to see Viva ready to play. He'll see limited ice time, but he'll be chomping at the bit to make a difference.

Southeast up in the air

On Saturday, things did not go well for the Hurricanes. If the stars had aligned properly, they would have clinched the Southeast division and the #3 seed in the playoffs. Now, even their playoff future is in question.

Carolina didn't bother showing up to the Tampa-St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday, losing an ugly game 2-1 to the Lightning. It's a game that they could have and should have won. On the other side of the state, Washington cruised to a 3-0 win over Florida. With three games to play, Carolina has a two point lead. As of right now, their 90 standings points would not be enough to get the eighth spot if everything goes pear shaped.

Carolina is still in control of their own destiny. Win two of the remaining three games, and they're in. Forget about how many games the Capitals may or may not lose. They have three games remaining, and all of them are in the Verizon Center. Assume that they will beat the Lightning on Thursday and the Kitties on Saturday. For them, they MUST win on Tuesday against Carolina. If they don't, there is no way for them to overtake Carolina. Although it isn't quite a "MUST WIN" situation for Carolina, it's as close to it as they can get.

If it comes down to it, Carolina holds all of the tie-breakers, but they'd much rather not let it get to that.

I'm going to be a complete mess tomorrow.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Canes smash Thrash, inch closer to division title

On Friday night, the Hurricanes destroyed the Thrashers 7-1 and restored their division lead to a more comfortable four points. If the stars align correctly, the Hurricanes can clinch the division tonight. If the Canes can win at Tampa and the Capitals lose in regulation at Florida, Carolina will secure the division.

A fully detailed recap will come later, but it was the unusual suspects who did the heavy lifting in this game. Eric Staal got the game's first goal less than a minute in. After that, it was the less glamorous players. Joe Corvo had one goal, Tuomo Ruutu had two, Jeff Hamilton had two, and Trevor Letowski had a shorthanded goal. In addition to the shorty, Carolina notched five power play goals. It was the best power play performance since the 6-4 win against Detroit on the day after Thanksgiving in 2002.

Tonight's puck drop will be at 7:30. Although they swear that they don't do things like this, the Hurricanes will be scoreboard watching, as the Caps and Kitties have a 7:00 start.

The Bolts, like the Thrashers, have nothing to play for at this point. It showed last night, as the Thrashers were undisciplined and got dirty late in the game. I hope it doesn't happen again tonight.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Southeast getting tight

The Washington Capitals didn't do the Hurricanes any favors last night. They won their game against the Lightning on Thursday night, and have closed the gap in the Southeast division. Now, Carolina has a two point lead with five games to play.

A little while ago, Canes fans looked at tonight's game with the Thrashers as a chance to widen the gap and perhaps clinch the division. Suddenly, it has become a "must win". Florida, by virtue of their loss on Thursday, is effectively out of the picture. Washington, however, could easily overtake Carolina unless the Hurricanes take care of their own business.

Right now, the cut for the Eastern Conference is 88 points. 88 is exactly what Carolina has. Although they would have all the tiebreakers in their favor if the season ended today, nothing is guaranteed. There are five games left for Carolina, and they will need to win three of them. Given their play recently, this isn't too much to ask, but the pressure is really on. If they are able to beat Washington at the Verizon Center on April 1, they will need only one other win. Either way, the only acceptable outcome tonight will be a win.

Chad LaRose will be returning to the lineup tonight after just one day of full contact practice. Justin Williams is back at practice, but won't be in the lineup until the playoffs.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hurricanes sign Sutter

On Wednesday morning, the Hurricanes signed 2007 first round pick Brandon Sutter to a three year entry-level contract. The contract won't officially begin until next season, and he has been assigned to Albany on a "tryout contract".

The 6'3" 170 pound kid is expected to make the Hurricanes lineup next fall. One of the things they'll work on with him over the summer is weight training and trying to get him to quickly fill out that huge frame.

After the Andrew Ladd experiment in 2004, the Jack Johnson disaster in 2005, and not getting a first round pick in 2006, this is very exciting.

Carolina has been trying for a few weeks to make this happen. Apparently, the stumbling block was the bonus clauses and the signing bonus. This contract has a $262,500 signing bonus. He'll make $787,500 at the NHL level next season.

Sutter had 49 (26/23) points in 59 games this season with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL.

How Sutter will fit into the lineup next October will be a mystery. If it comes down to a battle for the last roster spot, Sutter is a right handed shot, and that should give him somewhat of an advantage. Carolina is, and has been lacking in right handed shots. Especially at the center position.

Speaking of right hand shots, Patrick Eaves will be undergoing shoulder surgery, and will be out for at least the remainder of the regular season. This means that Chad "Sharpie" LaRose will be rushed back into the lineup. He broke his leg February 5, and only returned to practice this week. He had one full contact practice and is feeling fine.

If anybody is concerned about Chad, they shouldn't be. He's tougher than Chuck Norris. LaRose is a crowd favorite and a sparkplug for the team on the ice and on the bench. It's great to hear that he's back in the lineup.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Canes to host big game tonight

Tonight at the RBC Center, the Hurricanes will be playing a critical game against the Capitals. If they can win in regulation, they can virtually clinch the SE division. If Washington wins in regulation, things will get very interesting.

Right now, Carolina's lead over the Caps is five points with six games to play. If they can stretch it to seven points with a win tonight, it would take a miracle for Carolina to blow it. The two teams will square off one last time next Tuesday. By then, Carolina will have had two excellent chances (at home against Atlanta and at Tampa) to put it away regardless of what happens tonight.

Looking at the projected lineups, there are 13 forwards listed. This is because Patrick Eaves is doubtful with the flu. Counting Eaves, eight of the 13 forwards were not on the Hurricanes roster when the season began. Five of them (Ryan Bayda, Keith Aucoin, Wade Brookbank, Joe Jensen and Tim Conboy) are AHL players. This group of players from the River Rats, affectionately called "The Rat Pack", has played quite well.

Alexander Ovechkin has been held goalless in the last two games between the Canes and Caps. Last time in Raleigh, though, he had three assists.

Also in the SE, Florida will be taking on Tampa, in a game that has some implications. There are loads of other games with playoff implications, including the Sabres v Sens, the Bruins v Leafs, the Penguins v Devils and Flyers v Rangers.

Carolina will be in third place in the East no matter what happens tonight, but Washington could end up anywhere between eighth and eleventh.

Cam Ward and Cristobal Huet will be in nets tonight.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Patrick Roy's kid loses his mind

On Saturday, in the QMJHL, there was a huge brawl between the Québec Remparts and the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. They are in the first round of the playoffs, and this occurred late in the second period of game two, with Québec down 7-1. They eventually lost 10-1.

I'd heard that the brawl happened, but didn't bother with the details. Now that I've seen the video, I'm horrified. Patrick Roy is the GM/head coach of the Remparts, and that's his kid tending goal for the Remparts. While a line brawl broke out, Jonathan Roy attempted to skate the length of the ice to fight Sags netminder Bobby Nadeau. He was restrained three times, but broke free, skated down and pummeled Nadeau, who clearly wanted no part.

Roy was given two major penalties, two misconducts and two game misconducts. He is expected to face supplementary discipline from the league today.

There are videos suggesting that Patrick Roy encouraged his son to do what he did.

Both flatly denied that Patrick Roy played any part. Even when a reporter challenged him, saying "Cut it out, Pat. We've got it on video", he said something like "You've got your story. I've got mine".

Patrick Roy has already been in deep water with the QMJHL this season, having been given an "extreme misconduct" penalty and a $2000 fine for "confronting" a referee after a game.

The extreme nature of Jon Roy's actions border on common assault. He should, but won't face civil or criminal charges. He "apologised" the next day, but he should definitely not be excused. And Patrick Roy should be absolutely embarrassed.

Speaking of Patrick Roy acting like a jerk, and embarrassing himself and his team, check out this classic "blast from the past". Krstofer Kolanos of the Coyotes beats Roy on a penalty shot, and Roy throws a temper tantrum which gets him tossed from the game.

If you're astute, you may recall that Krystofer "Kaptain Kuncussion" Kolanos was one of the players involved in the Mark Recchi to Carolina trade in the spring of 2006. He has played in just 15 NHL games since the lockout after suffering multiple concussions

Friday, March 21, 2008

Carolina wins again, widens lead

On Thursday, Carolina continued their fiery month of March with a shootout win over the Panthers. Although they allowed the Panthers to get one point, the important thing is that they got two of their own, padding their division lead.

Carolina's lead is now seven points over Washington and eight over Florida. Both teams have a game in hand. Even if one of those teams runs the table, Carolina can secure the division championship with a run of 3-2-1 down the stretch.

In typical fashion, Florida coach Jacques Martin was whining to the press before the game about how Carolina is a bunch of divers and how the officiating favors Carolina. In this game, though, Carolina had just two power plays. Florida had five. When they had their chances -- and they did -- they couldn't do anything about it.

Trevor Letowski got on the board early with a surprise shot from just inside the Florida blue line. Tomas Vokoun was surprised by it, or didn't see it. Whatever the case, it was a shot that he should have stopped, but it ended up beating him cleanly high on the blocker side. 3:22 was the time of the goal, and it was assisted by Glen Wesley and Nick Wallin.

The second period was filled with penalties against the Canes, but the penalty killers were amazing. Cam Ward was the best penalty killer, and he was sensational in the second frame. He had one save in particular against Olie Jokinen late in the period that was a highlight reel keeper. Ward had to explode from his right to left, stack the pads and made a sensational glove save from point blank range as Jokinen had made the "perfect" shot, getting it over the pads.

Steven Weiss broke up the shutout 22 seconds into the third, assisted by David Booth and Jay Bouwmeester. It was one of the few times all game where Cam Ward's rebound control wasn't great. Booth took a shot from the left circle that Ward knocked down into the slot. Weiss gathered it and deposited it into the far side of the net.

Florida had lots of late chances, including some power play time, but they couldn't take the lead, and on it went to overtime. Nothing notable happened in the overtime, and it went to shootout.

Carolina went first, and Jeff Hamilton was stopped. After the first Florida shooter went wide of the net, Sergei Samsonov scored. The second Florida shooter was stopped by Ward. Eric Staal got a cheap one to trickle through the pads of Vokoun, and the bottom of the third was unnecessary.

The RBH three stars were exactly like the "official" stars.

THIRD STAR Steven Weiss, FLA --- goal
SECOND STAR Cam Ward, CAR --- 36 saves, shootout win
FIRST STAR Sergei Samsonov --- shootout winner

Carolina will be idle for the next four days, and the word on the street is that Peter Laviolette has told the boys to take some time for themselves. Washington will use their game in hand tonight against the lowly Thrashers. Then, a gigantic matchup in Raleigh on Tuesday.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Carolina visits Sunrise

Tonight, Carolina will visit the Panthers with a chance to put some real distance between themselves and both of the SE contenders. If Carolina can snap Florida's seven game winning streak, their lead will be seven over Washington and nine over Florida. That will all but eliminate the Panthers. If, however, the Panthers win, Carolina's lead will be just five points over each team.

Even if Carolina can muster just one standings point, a lot of pressure will be on Washington and Florida because they will both be six points back with seven games to play.

Puck drop is 7:30.

There are no other games of interest in the Southeast tonight. Tampa plays Pittsburgh, and the Penguins will have a chance to take over first place in their division, but that won't affect the Hurricanes' standing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Canes beat Thrash, widen lead

On Wednesday night, the Hurricanes defeated the Thrashers 5-3 and have gained their 85th standings point. As I am typing, Washington trails Chicago 5-0 midway through the second period. This is also good news.

If the game in Chicago holds up, Carolina will end the night with a five point lead over Washington with seven games (all within the division) to play. The road has just gotten a little easier to hoe.

Carolina's next two games could either put it out of reach, or make it really interesting. They will be in Florida on Thursday and at home against the Caps on next Tuesday. The Cats are smoldering hot and will be rested for Thursday's game. They will have the chance to move into second place in the division.

Although the score of Wednesday's game was 5-3, it wasn't that close. This game was all Canes.

Trevor "The Dude" Letowski started it all off at 4:04 of the first with a shot from the right circle. Patty Eaves made a really pretty cross-slot pass. Ruuty got the secondary helper.

Sergei Samsonov got an unassisted goal at 6:58 after putting on a stick-handling show. His shot came from above the right circle, and the rout was on.

At 13:35, the future captain Eric Staal potted his 35th goal of the season. He came fresh off the bench, created a neutral zone turnover, then took a pass from Jeff Hamilton in the high slot to make it 3-0.

Cam Ward's shutout bid didn't last long, as Bryan Little broke it up just 1:56 into the middle frame. Slava Kozlov and Mark Recchi got the helpers.

Joe Jensen, whose claim to fame heretofore was puking on the bench in his NHL debut, potted the game winner at 3:35 of the second. He was low in the right circle, and received a nice pass from Hamilton from below the goal line. He snapped it in on the far side for his first NHL goal. Tim ("don't call me Tom") Conboy got the second assist.

Steve McCarthy made it 4-2 at 4:56, and it was starting to get a little interesting. He scooped up some loose change out front and deposited it into Ward's net for his first goal. Chris Thorburn and the 1989 Hartford Whalers first round draft pick Bobby Holik got the helpers.

Erik Cole scored his 21st goal of the season at 14:51 of the third. From below the goal line, Sergei Samsonov made a phenomenal no-look, behind the back pass to Cole, who was hanging out in the left circle. He got a couple of whacks at it, and finally beat The Moose, making it 5-2. Bret Hedican, whose wife was apparently very good on "Dancing With the Stars" the other night, got the secondary assist.

Kozlov got a late garbage goal at 19:21, assisted by Little and Recchi.

This game had only four penalties. I guess the referees had tickets to Hanna Montana or something like that. They were in a real hurry to get out of there.

Carolina completely dominated the first, then slacked off in the second, then played well in the third. Good enough to beat the Thrashers, but they'll have to have 60 minute efforts against the likes of Washington and Florida, whom they play twice each in the remaining seven games.

The "official" three stars are a bit loopy. Okay. They're a LOT loopy. Word on the street is that these things aren't really selected by the "local media". Sometimes, it's some intern who randomly chooses names. This seems like one of those. The official stars were Steve McCarthy (third), Eric Staal (second) and Cam Ward (first). None of these were even in my top five stars. I don't get that.
The RBH three stars:
THIRD STAR Vyacheslav Kozlov, ATL -- 1 goal, 1 assist.
SECOND STAR Jeffrey Hamilton, CAR -- 2 assists.
FIRST STAR Sergei Samsonov, CAR -- 1 goal, 1 assist, 3 blocked shots.

Carolina will have no time to rest. They're headed to Sunrise for a 7:30 game on Thursday.

A little birdy has told me that Justin Viva Williams is very close to being ready to rejoin the team after missing the last 39 games with MCL/ACL issues. This makes me very happy.

The home stretch

With eight games to play, Carolina is atop the Southeast division with a three point lead over Washington and a five point lead over Florida. All eight remaining games are Southeast matchups. Two against each team in the division.

Every game will be critical, starting tonight in Atlanta. Puck drop at 7:00.

Jeff Hamilton has cleared re-entry waivers. With Matt Cullen out of the lineup indefinitely with post-concussion issues, Hambone will get some quality ice time. Or at least some quantity ice time.

When will the injuries to key players finally be too much?
The top line of Ray Whitney/ Rod Brind'Amour/ Justin Williams is out. Matt Cullen is out.

The newcomers and the "Rat Pack" have played extremely well, but it's gonna be hard to make a deep playoff run with AHL-quality players in the lineup. I hope they prove me wrong.

On the other hand, Justin Williams should be able to return if the Hurricanes can hold on to that SE lead and make the playoffs.

It's going to be a very tight race. Every game is a "must win". For the Panthers, they literally must win every game (and get some outside help). The Thrahsers and Lightning are out of contention, but they could easily play the part of spoiler.

The Caps, who won last night in Nashville, will be on the road tonight at Chicago. Canes fans will have a keen interest in that game, just as the Caps fan will have an interest in the Canes game.

Full game posts late tonight.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Toskala lets in a loooooooong one

In the first period of action between the Leafs and Isles on Tuesday, Leafs netminder Vesa Toskala made highlight reels for all the wrong reasons.

Not only was it a shorhanded goal, but it was from ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY FOUR FEET AWAY!

From the NHL's official play-by-play:

And the YouTube:

Um. Wow.

Month? No. Toskala will be on "highlight" reels for years to come.

Monday, March 17, 2008

revisiting the "hot seats"

Way back in August, The Score posted a list of players who they thought would be in the "hot seat" for their team. A few days later, I followed with a two part series for the Eastern conference:(Part one) and (Part two).

"Hot seat" wasn't really they right name, since it wasn't as if any of these players' jobs were on the line. It was more like "this will be the guy whose play will determine the fate of the team".

Now that six and a half months have passed and the season is nigh over, I think it's time to check in and see how my picks went. I'll work my way alphabetically through the conference.

I apologise about the length.

ATLANTA. Both The Score and I chose Ilya Kovalchuk. I said "If he drops off (in points production) again, the Thrash will have no hope of qualifying for the playoffs."
Kovalchuk has registered 81 (49/32) points thus far, and is back to form after a poor showing last season, but the Thrashers are still no hope for the playoffs.

BOSTON. The Score picked Manny Fernandez. I scoffed at that and picked Phil Kessel. I said "The Teddy Bears have been all about Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron, but that's going to have to change"
Fernandez only played in four games, going 2-2-0 with a GAA of 3.93 and a save % of .832. Those are terrible numbers, even if it was just four games. He blew out his knee in November and will be out for the season.
Kessel has put up 33 (16/17) points, and hasn't answered the call.
The Bruins are currently in seventh place in the east, hoping to hold off the efforts by Buffalo and Florida to grab playoff spots.

BUFFALO. The Score selected the tandem of Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek. I picked Maxim Afinogenov. I said "If Afinogenov can crank it up a couple of notches, they'll be great."
Roy is having the best season of his young career. He's got 66 (29/37) points.
Vanek is having a good season, registering 53 (28/25) points so far. Last year, he led the league with a +47. Something happened this season, and he is a -4.
Afinogenov has had a dreadful season. He's missed some games due to injury, but he's only put up 25 (9/16) points.
The Sabres are trying to claw their way into the playoffs.

CAROLINA. The Score picked Cam Ward. I went with Matt Cullen. I claimed that the Canes wouldn't have any excuses now that Cullen was brought back in. I said "Cullen will have to put up 50 points or more...".
Ward has had a good season in his second year as the starter. He is 33-22-4 with 4 shutouts, a GAA of 2.81 and a save % of .901. Those are all career bests for him.
Cullen has missed a handful of games with various injuries, but me statement was eerily prophetic. He has 49 points (13/36), and could miss the remaining eight games with post-concussion symptoms.
Carolina currently has the #3 seed in the east by virtue of sitting atop the Southeast division.

FLORIDA. The Score put Tomas Vokoun in their hot seat while I put Nathan Horton in mine. I said "He's one of a few (from the 2003 draft class) who hasn't had at least one explosive season."
Vokoun is 29-26-7 with 4 shutouts, a GAA of 2.74 and a save % of .917. Those are all pretty good numbers.
Nathan Horton has had a season pretty much just like all the others. He has 56 (23/33) points. The Panthers are working hard and playing well, but they will most likely miss out on the playoffs.

MONTREAL. The Score picked on Alex Kovalev, while I said Michael Ryder. I said "There's probably more in the tank. He needs to find it".

Kovalev has had a pretty remarkable season. He has 74 (31/43) points, and is on pace to finish with his second best points total of his career.
Michael Ryder didn't find whatever else was in the tank. He has 27 (13/14) points.
Les Canadiens are tops in the Northeast, and will get the #2 seed in the playoffs.

NEW JERSEY. The Score picked Dainius Zubrus, while I picked Zach Parise.
Zubris has had an unimpressive 33 (11/22) points so far, while Parise is leading the Devils with 61 (30/31) points, including 7 game winners. He is a +22.

The Devils have a very narrow one point lead over Pittsburgh in the Atlantic, and they'll make the playoffs for sure, but it's hard to predict if they'll win their division.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS. The Score thought that Billy Guerin was the "hot seat" guy, but "for giggles" I picked Jeff Tambellini.
Guerin has had a bad season by his standards. He has just 40 (22/18) points.
Tambellini hasn't secured a permanent spot on the big club. He's been up and down to Bridgeport a lot, and he has just three (1/2) points with the Isles. Sadly, he's one of just a couple of guys from that 2003 class who haven't "made it" yet.
I predicted that the Islanders would stink, and they do, but not nearly as bad as I thought they would. They won't be making the playoffs.

NEW YORK RANGERS. The Score put Chris Drury in the hot seat. I put fellow newcomer Scott Gomez in the seat.

The ridiculously overpaid Drury has 48 points (22/26) this season after putting up 69 last season and 67 the season before.
Gomez has 67 (16/51) points this season after scoring 60 last year.
The Rangers are presently in the #6 spot.

OTTAWA. The Score put Wade Redden in the hot seat. I put Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Ray Emery in the seat.
Redden his 37 points (6/31).
Alfredsson has 80 (37/43) points, while Spezza is having the best season of his career. He has 83 (30/53) points and is a +23.
Ray Emery is 12-12-4 with a GAA of 3.05 and a save % of .893. He lost the starting job to Martin Gerber back in late February.

PHILADELPHIA. The Score picked on Martin Biron, while I chose Danny Briere. I said that he got "... a hefty raise, and I don't think he deserves it".

Biron has a 25-19-8 record, 3 shutouts, a GAA of 2.70 and a save % of .916. Good numbers from him.
Briere has 62 (26/36) points, which is right on par with most of his NHL seasons. His 95 point campaign last season was apparently a fluke.
The Flyers are currently in the last playoff spot.

PITTSBURGH. The Score picked old man Gary Roberts, while I picked the tandem of Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin. "(Malkin's challenge) is to prove that his eye-popping 85 (33/52) points wasn't a fluke"
Roberts broke his leg in January after posting just 15 (3/12) points. He won't be back.
Jordan Staal's sophomore campaign has been unimpressive. He has just 25 (10/15) points. Malkin's second season, however, has been nothing short of spectacular. He has 97 (41/56) points. The Penguins are only one point out of first place in the East.

TAMPA BAY. The Score foolishly put Marc Denis in the hot seat. I put Vincent Lecavalier.
Denis had a dreadful season. He played in just 10 games, going 1-5-0 before being assigned to the AHL. His 4.05 GAA and .859 save % are the stuff of nightmares.
Lecavalier has 85 (37/48) points. He won't quite match his 108 from last season, but he's had a very good year on a very bad team. They have a pretty fair chance to finish dead last in the entire NHL.

TORONTO. The Score Put Vesa Toskala in the hot seat. I ridiculed that call, claiming that Toskala wouldn't even be the #2 goalie. I put Kyle Wellwood in the hotseat, saying that he "has shown that he can produce huge numbers at every level, and it's time to do it at the NHL level."
Toskala has had a great season. He's 29-22-6 with 3 shutouts, a 2.63 GAA and a save % of .906.
Wellwood still can't produce at the NHL level. He has 16 (6/10) points.
The Leafs have put together an amazing late run, but they won't qualify for the playoffs.

Finally, WASHINGTON. The Score went the easy route and put Alexander Ovechkin in the seat. I went with the high-priced free agent Michael Nylander. "It's up to him to bolster that one-man-show."
Ovechkin, as we all know by now, has 99 (57/42) points. No surprise there.
Nylander only played in 40 games before having shoulder problems. In those games, he put up 36 (11/26) points.

The Caps are working hard to have a chance at the last playoff spot. They're also just five points out of the Southeast lead.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Canes rebound, crush Sens

On Sunday afternoon, the Hurricanes put the bad loss in Buffalo behind them by pasting the visiting Senators 5-1. To make things extra sweet, it became even more clear that Carolina got the better end of the February 11 trade.

Joe Corvo, who hated the Canadian press, and who was constantly maligned by the Sens faithful, had a spectacular night. He recorded his first career hat trick, notching goals 10,11 and 12 of the season. He now has 42 (12/30) points on the season. 15 (6/9) have come in 15 games since joining the Hurricanes.

Dany Heatley got the scoring off to an early start when the Sens cashed in on a five-on-three power play situation. Jason Spezza made a very nice cross-ice pass to Heatley, who was parked by the right post. He tucked it in for the early lead, but it would be the Sens only bright spot. Cory Stillman got the secondary assist.

Patrick Eaves, the other part of that Feb 11 trade, got his first goal in a Hurricanes uniform during the Canes first power play of the afternoon. Frantisek Kaberle's hard shot from the blue line was tipped by Eaves at the top of the goal crease. The penalty, by the way, was Mike Commodore's. Officially, the power play goal was at 7:00 of the first, and it was assisted by Kaberle and Scott Walker.

Mike Commodore's night got worse when his second penalty of the game led to Carolina's second goal of the game at 10:24. Joe Corvo fired a cannon from the high slot that the Gerber Baby had no chance on. The game-winning goal was during a four-on-three power play. Sergei Samsonov and Eric Staal got the assists.

Scott Walker scored his second goal in as many games, beating Gerber with a nasty wrist shot at 5:56 of the second. After a Sens turnover, Eric Staal fed Tim Gleason, who joined the 3-on-2 rush. Gleason, streaking down the right wing made a beautiful pass to Walker, who wristed it in from the inside hash marks of the left circle.

There was no more scoring in the second, but it was emblematic of the Sens play for the whole game. They only mustered three shots in the second frame, and they committed five penalties. The puck was in the Ottawa end for probably 70% of the period.

At 2:09 of the final stanza, Joe Corvo got his second goal of the night with a laser beam from the top of the right circle. Again on the power play, and again it was assisted by Samsonov and Staal.

To cap a magnificent afternoon, Corvo scored on a nifty backhand goal at 17:50 of the third to finish a breakaway . Tuomo Ruutu got the only assist. It was Corvo's first career hat trick, and perhaps the first one ever by a Hurricanes defenseman.

It's hard to argue with the "official" three stars of Patrick Eaves (third), Eric Staal (second) and Joe Corvo (first). While that's cute to give both former Sens a star, I think I've gotta give SerSam some love on this one. The RBH three stars:

THIRD STAR Sergei Samsonov, CAR --- 2 assists, 2 takeaways
SECOND STAR Eric Staal, CAR --- 3 assists
FIRST STAR Joe Corvo, 3 goals, 3 blocked shots

Mike Commodore had a dismal day, and has been nothing but trouble for the Sens. His two penalties today both resulted in Canes goals. He doled out five hits, but has been for Ottawa thus far exactly what he had grown to be in Carolina: a liability. In 17 games with the Sens, he has no points and is a -8.

Cory Stillman had an assist on Ottawa's only goal. In 17 games for them, he has 14 (2/12) points and is a -5.

On the other hand...

Joe Corvo has 15 points (6/9) in 15 games with Carolina and is a +6.

Patrick Eaves has 4 points (1/3) in 9 games with Carolina and is a -1.

Although Carolina took care of their end, they didn't get help from their SE enemies. Both Washington and Florida won their games. Carolina's lead in the SE remains at five points.

Carolina will be off until Wednesday, when they travel to Atlanta.

After this game, what will the Canadian press say about Corvo?

Canes to host Sens in "reunion game"

On Sunday afternoon, the Hurricanes will host the Senators. They will try to put Friday's debacle in Buffalo behind them, but Ottawa is pretty hot right now. It should be a fun game, and I'll have to miss the first period, but I'm DVRing the whole thing.

This is the first time the teams have met since Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore were traded for Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves. Also, Matin Gerber will be back.

Carolina has recalled forwards Joe Jensen and Patrick Dwyer from Albany. Jensen had a one-game call up earlier in the season, but he became violently ill during the game. This will be Dwyer's NHL debut.

Puck drop is at 3:00.

Also, don't forget to sign up for the NCAA mens basketball bracket pool.

The group is called "hockey bloggers", but it's open to anyone.

To enter, simply click on the link below, or cut and paste it into your browser.


Our Group password is: icing

This pool will have special bonus points if you correctly pick a Cinderella to make a deep run.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Sabres rout Hurricanes (again)

On Friday, the Sabres demolished the Canes 7-1. They got goals from six different players, and they played a sound game all the way around.

Like the last visit to HSBC, the Sabres got off to a roaring start and had the game well in hand by the second intermission. Like the last one, Miller gave up a meaningless goal late to spoil the shutout bid.

The Sabres got goals from Daniel Paille, Adam Mair, Derek Roy (shorthanded), Paul Gustad, Patrick Kaleta, Roy again and Ales Kotalik (power play).

The Hurricanes could only muster one goal, a shorthanded marker by Scott Walker.

The FSN South crew kept talking about how Lindy Ruff held his team on the ice after practice yesterday and "held court" with them for some period of time between 13 minutes and 17 minutes. Whatever he said to them worked.

The Sabres came to play, and they came out of the gates hard and fast. The first goal came at 4:44 of the first, and the second at 5:06. The game was already over.

In addition to the embarrassing loss, both the Capitals and the Panthers won their games, trimming Carolina's SE lead to five points.

There were a ton of bad things about tonight, but there were actually a few good things. Carolina took about a million penalties, but the PK units did a spectacular job of killing all but one of the power plays that Buffalo enjoyed.

As the game neared the end, Carolina lost its composure and took a bunch of undisciplined penalties. By the end of it all, Carolina had 20 penalties to Buffalo's 13. Where it really mattered was that the Hurricanes were shorthanded for 18:44. Buffalo, on the other hand, was shorthanded for 6:33. In the first two periods, the penalties were even, but Carolina let frustration get the better of them and there was a constant parade to the box.

Carolina ruined the shutout, which is (sort of) a bright side.
They scored a shorthanded goal, which is (sort of) a bright side.

Most importantly, Carolina won't be going back to Buffalo until next season. In two games there this year, Carolina has played very poorly and have been outscored 15-2.

Carolina will now lick their wounds and return to Raleigh, where they will meet the Senators on Sunday.

The RBH three stars:
THIRD STAR Ryan Miller, BUF --- 27 saves
SECOND STAR Adam Mair, BUF --- GWG, 2 assists
FIRST STAR Derek Roy, BUF --- 2 goals, 1 assist

Special mention to Scott Walker, who scored Carolina's only goal on a shortie. He also amassed 23 penalty minutes.

Somehow, Glen Wesley of the Canes ended up with a +1 rating.

Somehow, Ales Kotalik, Max Afinogenov and Jochen Hecht of the Sabres all ended up with a -1 rating.

Eric Staal, Sergei Samsonov, Matt Cullen and Joe Corvo all had their five game points streak stopped. The Hurricanes had their five game win streak snapped.

Canes/Sabres square off again

Tonight, the Hurricanes and Sabres will meet for the final time in the 2007-08 regular season. So far, the home team has won all three games in the series. Buffalo managed an overtime loss in Raleigh last week, so Carolina has gained four standings points, going 2-1-0 so far while Buffalo has gained three standings points, going 1-1-1 so far.

Last time, I commented that the Sabres were eat up with injuries. Things have only gotten worse for them in that department. Defensemen Dmitri Kalinin, Jaro Spacek and Centerman Tim Connolly continue to be out of the lineup. Now, defenseman Nathan Paetsch has been added to the list after suffering a concussion in Wednesday's game against the Penguins. For that hit that caused the concussion, Pens tough guy Le Grand GG Georges Laraque has been suspended for three games.

Just as in the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals, the Sabres are reduced to playing some very inexperienced defensemen. The third pairing of Michael Funk and Mike Weber have five career NHL games between them.

By no means, though, should anybody count the Sabres out. They're a good team, and they're gonna bring it. They're on the outside looking in, and they desperately need a win. They're not about to roll over or mail it in.

Carolina is 8-1-1 in their last ten, while Buffalo is 2-5-3 in theirs.

I can't stress enough. Don't count them out. This should be a good game. There is a bit of a rivalry, and for no other reason, the Sabres' postseason hopes pretty much hinge on this game.

Cam Ward will get his 11th straight start while Ryan Miller will get his millionth straight start. He isn't just the #1 guy. He is THE guy. He's got his Martin Brodeur pants on, and all kidding aside, this is going to be his 25th straight start.

Carolina fans will be keeping a close eye on other games around the league. Atlanta at Washington and Rangers at Florida. Go Thrash! Go Rags! Oddly, the Sabres will also be rooting for Atlanta in that game, as both the Caps and the Sabres are trying to claw back into the eighth playoff spot.

Eric Staal, Sergei Samsonov, Matt Cullen and Joe Corvo all have five game points streaks going.

Puck drop is 7:30.

As always, check out BFLOBLOG for excellent Buffalo perspective and an open thread during the game. If you make comments over there, please act like you have some sense. They're good guys.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

March Madness bracket pool forming

I've set up a March Madness bracket pool thingy over at CBSsportsline.com. Registration is free and easy for both CBS and the pool I've formed. Please hop on in!

The tournament selection show will take place this coming Sunday at 6:30. After the seeds have been determined, you can make your picks, and you can edit your picks as much as you want up until March 20, which is when the big tournament starts.

The group is called "hockey bloggers", but it's open to anyone.

To enter, simply click on the link below, or cut and paste it into your browser.


Our Group password is: icing

This pool will have special bonus points if you correctly pick a Cinderella to make a deep run.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Canes roll over Chicago

On Wednesday, the Hurricanes continued their torrid streak by shutting out the Blackhawks 3-0 in the United Center. Carolina got all the scoring they needed in the first period, then clamped down on defense to win a very convincing game over a desperate but tired team. While the Hurricanes had been off since Saturday, the 'Hawks were in Detroit on Tuesday.

Washington and Florida both won earlier in the evening, but Carolina's victory keeps their cushion at a comfortable seven points in the SE division. Washington has a game in hand, plus two of those "four point" games against the Canes. They are all "must win" games for the Caps. Florida also has two of the "four point" games.

Erik Cole got the scoring started at 8:57 of the first with a power play marker. All alone in the slot, his shot easily beat Corey Crawford for the game winner. Sergei Samsonov set it up nicely down below the goal line. Eric Staal got the secondary assist.

At 10:39 of the first, Matt Cullen cashed in on the second power play of the game. He pounded away at the rebound of a Staal shot until it found its way through Crawford.

Eric Staal capped a magnificent period with a breakaway goal from his backhand. Joe Corvo and Tuomo Ruutu assisted. It was Staal's 70th (34/36) point of the season and the third (1/2) point of the game.

Later in the first, Matt Cullen made a goal-saving play. While Cam Ward was down and out after making a save, a stuffback attempt fluttered through the crease. Cullen pounced on the loose puck and sent it out.

Ward had some help from the heavy metal on a few occasions, but the Hurricanes also hit a couple of posts. Although there were long periods of inactivity, Ward was sharp and made some very nice saves down the stretch on the way to his sixth career shutout.

The "official" three stars went to Patrick Kane (third), Cam Ward (second) and Eric Staal (first). Kane was obviously just a gratuitous pick. The RBH stars:

THIRD STAR Matt Cullen, CAR --- goal
SECOND STAR Cam Ward, CAR --- 25 saves, shutout
FIRST STAR Eric Staal, CAR --- goal, 2 assists

Carolina has now won five games in a row and is in a situation where they can control their own playoff destiny. On Friday, they will visit Buffalo, who will be ready to avenge their loss here last Saturday.

Lots of familiar faces in Chicago tonight

For Wednesday night's game between the Blackhawks and the Hurricanes, both teams will see some familiar faces wearing the wrong sweater.

Carolina will see their old friends Kevyn Adams, Craig Adams and Andrew Ladd all playing for the Blackhawks.

Chicago will see Tuomo Ruutu and castoff Sergei Samsonov playing for the visiting Hurricanes.

Craig Adams has been doing nothing all season. It doesn't matter what sweater he wears. Kevyn Adams has been injured most of the year and just returned to the lineup on Sunday. Andrew Ladd has played well since the trade deadline trade. In eight games with the Blackhawks, Ladd has recorded six (2/4) points and is a -1.

Since the Ladd trade, Tuomo Ruutu has played well with the Hurricanes, recording just three (1/2) points, but he's been a very physical and energetic player.

Sergei Samsonov, though, has to be the best acquisition the Hurricanes have made in quite some time. Since being claimed on re-entry waivers from the Blackhawks on January 8, Samsonov has 24 (12/12) points in 27 games and is a +11. In that time frame, he's been the most prolific Hurricanes scorer, and one of the biggest stories in the NHL.

Although these teams don't face each other very often, they know each other pretty well.

The Blackhawks are fighting just to make the playoffs, while the Hurricanes will try to extend their lead in the SE division and build on their longest winning streak of the season.

Game recap to follow.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Evaluating the trade

On February 11, the Hurricanes and Senators pulled off a major trade ahead of the deadline. Carolina sent winger Cory Stillman and defenseman Mike Commodore to the Senators in exchange for winger Patrick Eaves and defenseman Joe Corvo. At first, the trade seemed like a wash, but enough time has now passed to be able to fairly evaluate the trade.

Since the trade, Ottawa has played 14 games and has gone 4-7-3. In that span, they've scored 27 goals and given up 45 for a differential of -18.

In that same amount of time, Carolina has played 13 games, going 10-2-1. They've scored 48 and given up 36 for a differential of +12.

In 14 games played, Mike Commodore has scored 0 points and is a -7.
In 14 games played, Cory Stillman has scored 11 (2/9) points and is a -5.

In 12 games played, Joe Corvo has scored 11 (3/8) points and is a +7.
In 6 games played, Patrick Eaves has scored 3 (0/3) points and is a +1.

Commodore and Stillman are both scheduled to be UFAs and both are due big raises.

Corvo is under contract for two more seasons and Eaves is scheduled to be a RFA.

Thus far, it's a no-brainer as to who got the better end.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Washington beats themselves again

Heading into Sunday's game with the Penguins, the Capitals trailed the Hurricanes by seven points, and they had two games in hand.

Niclas Backstrom scored a beautiful game winning goal. The only problem was that it was into his own net. Backstrom tipped one into his own net, giving the Penguins a 3-2 lead late in a crucial game. A few seconds later, Jordan Staal scored an empty netter to secure the win for the Penguins.

Carolina still has a seven point lead in the Southeast division. For the second day in a row, Washington has beat itself and helped Carolina in the process. Washington still has a game in hand, but with just 12 games to play, the seven point difference will be a huge one to overcome.

And there is much rejoicing in Carolina.

Canes down Sabres, widen lead

On Saturday night, the Hurricanes beat Buffalo 4-3 in overtime. It was the second of three things to make this a perfect day for RBH.

Earlier in the day, the Capitals self-destructed in the third period of their game against Boston, handing the Bruins the game. Thing one.

Thing two was this game. Just as I suspected, it wasn't at all like either of the two previous games between the teams this season.

It's beginning to sound like a broken record, but the new guys and the "Rat Pack" were major players in the game. There is no way Carolina would be where they are today without the major contributions from new guys (Sergei Samsonov, Joe Corvo, Patrick Eaves, Tuomo Ruutu) or the "Rat Pack" (Keith Aucoin, Ryan Bayda, Tim Conboy, Wade Brookbank).

Aucoin got the Hurricanes on the board first with a really nice finish of a well played shift. Ryan Bayda was relentless with his shot and rebound attempts. Finally, a rebound went out to Aucoin at the inside hashmarks of the right circle. He snapped it in at 16:35. Bayda and Corvo had the assists.

As the goal was being announced over the PA, Tim Gleason made it 2-0. Matt Cullen won the draw back to Gleason, who tried a shot from the right point. It was turned aside by Ryan Miller, but Eaves fed it back to Gleason for a second shot. This time it found the net. Officially, the goal was Gleason from Eaves and Cullen at 17:01.

Derek Roy pulled the Sabres to within one goal at 7:46 of the second. Cam Ward made a sloppy play behind his own net and Roy capitalized on it by pouncing on a loose puck in front and sliding it past Ward. The unassisted goal was Roy's 27th marker of the season. He is now tied with Thomas Vanek for the team lead.

Sergei Samsonov continued his skyrocket-like success by notching his 12th goal since joining the Hurricanes 27 games ago. Eric Staal fired a shot from the high slot that was answered by Miller, but Samsonov swatted the rebound out of mid-air and into the net. Dennis Seidenberg got the secondary assist, and the official time was 8:52 of the second.

Drew Stafford again cut the lead to one when he got a tip-in at 18:07 of the second. The Sabres worked hard and created a ton of traffic on the play. There were two unattended Sabres right on the front doorstep, and Stafford just happened to be the one who got his stick on it. Dmitri Kalinin and Derek Roy got the assists.

Both teams really battened down the hatches and everyone knew that the third period would be a good one. The only scoring came at the midway point of the period. Bret Hedican took one of his trademark bad penalties, tripping Maxim Afinogenov. On the ensuing power play, the Sabres created havoc in front of Cam Ward, and in the havoc, Ward lost his stick. Toni Lydman willed the puck in, and there was a brand new game. Officially, the power play goal came at 10:00 of the third. Lydman from Jochen Hecht and Afinogenov.

Late in the third, Ryan Miller was outstanding. He made a dazzling stop on Eric Staal, exploding from his right to left to rob Staal at the right post. Staal had already raised his arms to celebrate, but Miller was better. A few minutes later, he made a fantastic save on Sergei Samsonov, taking away another sure goal.

The game went to overtime, and Miller again robbed Samsonov early in the extra frame. I was thinking that Samsonov was going to have nightmares about Ryan Miller. However, Jaro Spacek was called for hooking, and the Canes were given a 4-on-3 overtime power play.

Near the end of the power play, Eric Staal wristed a shot from the high slot. Scott Walker was parked in front of the crease and tipped it off the right post and in. After a series of remarkable saves, Miller got beaten by a shot that he had no chance of seeing. Staal and Corvo assisted Walker for the game winner.

The "official" three stars went to Eric Staal(third), Sergei Samsonov (second) and Scott Walker (first). That's just not fair. Ryan Miller played a hell of a game. He was on his head for most of the third period and the overtime. I don't feel right not giving him credit for a heroic effort.

Trevor Letowski was an unsung hero of this game. He did some very nice work on the penalty kill, and he had a good night in the faceoff circle. He finished with a -1 rating and had no points, but I need to mention his hard work tonight and throughout the Hurricanes hot streak.

With special mention to Letowski, Matt Cullen and Ryan Bayda, the RBH three stars:
THIRD STAR Ryan Miller, BUF --- 31 saves
SECOND STAR Joe Corvo, CAR --- 2 assists
FIRST STAR Eric Staal, CAR --- 2 assists

Carolina now has a seven point lead in the division. They have eleven games to play while Washington has 13. The Caps have two games in hand. One will be expended Sunday against the Penguins. The Hurricanes will be off until Wednesday when they will visit Kevyn Adams, Craig Adams, Andrew Ladd and the Blackhawks.

This game made my night good enough, but to cap it off, UNC held off a furious second half rally by Duke to win the big game 76-68. All the detractors have been saying that UNC doesn't deserve its #1 ranking because they "haven't played anybody". Duke is the #5 team in the nation, and UNC beat them in Durham. That should be good enough. It was an emotional day for both teams. Duke had "senior day", and Carolina was playing the first game since the shocking murder of the UNC student body president earlier this week. Duke was classy enough to observe a moment of silence before the game and hand out Carolina blue ribbons in her honor.

Overall, a very good day for RBH.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Bs beat Caps

In the early game on Saturday, the Bruins did the Hurricanes a huge favor by beating the Capitals 2-1.
Actually, the Bruins were really watching their own back, giving themselves a better chance to qualify for the playoffs.

Technically speaking, the Capitals did themselves in. They had a 1-0 lead with about 5:45 to play. Donald Brashear lost his mind. After committing a high-sticking double minor, he lost his cool and threw a punch at a Bruins player who got in his face. The result was a six minute triple minor.

A short while later, John Erskine was called for hooking. It was a marginal call, but it gave the Bruins two solid minutes of five-on-three. Zdeno Chara scored, and the Bruins stayed put on the five-on-three. The first of Brashear's penalties came off, and he still had four minutes. Erskine's penalty elapsed, but right after, Tom Poti was called for slashing. Marco Sturm put the Bs ahead to stay.

This is huge for the Hurricanes. It means that they can really widen their lead with a win, or even an overtime loss tonight.

Big game x2

Today, there will be two very big sporting events going on in the Raleigh-Durham area. For a while, they'll be overlapping.

The biggest will be the Duke-UNC basketball game. This happens twice a season, but the second one is always the most important game of the season for each team. Even in the seasons where one team or the other is having a sub-par year, this is the big game. These two teams hate each other with burning passion. The coaches hate each other. The fans hate each other. The mascots hate each other. This is the biggest rivalry in college basketball. Maybe in all of sports.

I am a Tarheel fan. This means that as I drive home from the hockey game, I've got Woody Durham on the radio. I should make it home for the last few minutes of regulation.

In Raleigh, the Sabres are in town for a 7:00 date. This is also a huge game. Carolina is looking to protect their lead in the SE division (and will hope that Boston can beat Washington today). Buffalo is looking to get back on the inside of the playoff bubble. This is another scenario where the two teams don't have love for each other. Every time they've played in the past two seasons, both teams really bring everything they have. Last season, the Sabres won all four meetings.
On October 24 this season, Carolina won 6-2 at home. On December 1, the Sabres embarrassed the Canes 8-1 at HSBC Center. I don't expect either team to blow the other out in this game.

There's quite a lot on the line for both teams in this game. Unfortunately, there might be a bunch of empty seats and/or a bunch of people leaving at the second intermission. It's hard to explain just how big the Duke-Carolina thing is. If you're from here, you get it. People center their entire year around this Duke-Carolina game. The point is, there won't be very many people buying tickets at the gate. The ones who do will probably be Sabres fans. They always have a good crowd due to a large number of transplants and a bunch of people who drive down.

Carolina has been glowing hot at home lately. They've been hot no matter where they play, but very very hot at home. The Sabres have been idle since Wednesday and have presumably been in Raleigh since Friday.

The Sabres are beset with injuries. Centermen Tim Connolly (hip) and Joken Hecht (leg) are both listed as day-to-day. Defenseman Henrik Tallinder has a shoulder injury. Teppo Numminen is still on the long term IR after having heart surgery in the off-season. Connolly and Hecht are listed in the unofficial lineups for tonight, but I suppose only Lindy Ruff knows at this point.

Only one new injury for the Hurricanes. Defenseman Glen Wesley will sit this one out with a hurt foot. Ray Whitney is still bothered by a swollen ankle. Rod Brind'Amour, Chad LaRose and Justin Williams are of course all out for the remainder of the season. Defenseman David Tanabe is out for the remainder of the season.

As always, check out BFLOBlog for good Sabres perspective. The guys over at Sabre Rattling seem to have retired their keyboards. Just two posts since December 5.

Recap will be up late tonight.

Don't forget to set your clocks forward one hour. Daylight savings time begins at 2:00 am.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Carolina wins again, widens lead

On Thursday, Carolina defeated the visiting Wild 3-2 and expanded their SE division lead to five points over idle Washington. The Caps still have two games in hand, but Carolina's win really puts pressure on the Caps to win. The Caps play at the slumping Bruins for lunch on Saturday.

Boston. Holy cow! They've been outscored 19-4 in their last three games. And one of those was a 1-0 game! Canes fans will hope that they can right the ship and do the Hurricanes a favor.

Thursday was a really long and bad day for me. I had tickets to the game, but one thing after another after another after another kept piling on, and I couldn't go. Among the things I had to deal with at work: a being shortstaffed, a bad leak in the ceiling of the dining room, and worst of all: some jackass poured gasoline down the drain in our women's restroom. Aside from the noxious fumes and the potential for an explosion, the gasoline ate through the drain pipes, and we had to spend hundreds of dollars on emergency plumbing. We don't know who did it, and we don't know whether it was a deliberate act of vandalism or some idiot carelessly disposing of unwanted petrol. Suffice to say, things were kinda scary for a while.

I didn't even get to watch the game on TV. Luckily, I had already set the DVR, so I eventually got to watch it.

Here's how things went down:

At 12:30 of the first, Matt Cullen very subtly re-directed a Joe Corvo shot from the right circle. Cullen was in the low slot, and I really don't see how he touched it, but that's what they're calling. The 4-on-4 goal was also assisted by Sergei Samsonov.

Scott Walker made it 2-0 at 14:09 of the first. After Eric Staal attempted a wrap-around to the right post, Walker jumped on the rebound at the bottom of the left circle and snapped it past the Wild goaltender. Keith Aucoin got the secondary assist.

Pavol Demitra put the visitors on the board at 18:02 of the first. From the bottom of the right circle, he beat Cam Ward with a snap shot. Pierre-Marc Bouchard set him up very nicely with a perfect pass from the left dot. Brian Rolston got the second assist.

Mikko Koivu got the equalizer just 19 seconds into the second frame on a gorgeous goal. Aaron Voros made a pass to him from behind the net. At the top of the goal crease, Koivu dragged the puck from his forehand to the backhand and easily finished the play. Marian Gaborik got the secondary assist.

Erik Cole got the game winner at 9:41 during a power play sequence. Like the first goal, it was credited to someone else first, then it was changed. Matt Cullen fired a heavy shot from the high slot which just barely ticked Cole's shin pad on the way through the slot. It's rather silly, but Cole gets credit for the goal and Cullen for the primary assist. Joe Corvo got the secondary assist, and Sergei Samsonov was robbed of an assist.

There was no more scoring in the game, but it got kinda chippy in the third.

Aaron Voros ran Eric Staal into the boards right along the bench area with about 14 minutes to play. Staal lay on the ice for a few seconds while a mini-melee broke out. Erik Cole immediately went after Voros, and all hell broke loose. Scott Walker for the Canes and Keith Carney for the Wild were ejected. Cole was penalized two for instigating, two for unsportsmanlike (instigating whilst wearing a visor), five for fighting and a ten minute misconduct. It was NOT a game misconduct. Voros was given a boarding major and a fighing major. When the dust settled, Carolina had one minute of power play thanks to a silly rule which doesn't give Cole the right to stand up for his teammates. It's absurd that in a situation like that, Cole is expected to go through the normal fighting protocol.

"Um. Excuse me. Mr. Voros. You have violently checked my teammate into the boards. He is our star player, our acting captain, and he is possibly injured badly. You must pay a price for your indiscretion. Would you like to engage in fisticuffs? Oh. Wait, please. I have to discard my helmet first. Okay. Let us commence fighting!"


Anyway, the game ended with that 3-2 score, but there was a little bit more tension in the dying seconds. Sergei Samsonov, of all people, threw a punch after he grew tired of being slashed by Nick Schultz down in the corners. Nothing came of that, and with just four seconds remaining, both players were sent to their locker rooms rather than the penalty box.

The "official" three stars and the RBH three stars are the same:
THIRD STAR Joe Corvo, CAR --- 2 assists
SECOND STAR Matt Cullen, CAR --- 1 goal, 1 assist, 75% (12/16) faceoffs

It should not be ignored that Tuomo Ruutu dished out five hits. At least one of them was of the "big" variety.

Also, it should be noted that Patrick Eaves looked good again. He's playing well and clicking with his linemates.

On Saturday, Carolina will face the hungry Sabres. After a loss against Washington on Wednesday, the Sabres are on the outside of the playoff bubble looking in. They have suffered a bunch of injuries lately, plus the subtraction of Brian Campbell from the blue line. This is crunch time, and they need the win. It's always a big game when the Sabres come to town. These two teams just don't get along very well, so both will be "bringing it".

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Carolina wins big, gets no help from Buffalo

On Wednesday, the Hurricanes took care of things on their own end, beating Atlanta 6-3. They were hoping for some help from the Sabres, but got none as the Capitals took a 3-1 win there.

Like they have done so many times during their hot streak, Carolina surrendered the game's first goal. They responded by scoring the next four, then trading goals with the Thrashers until the final score was 6-3.

In front of a very sparse crowd that was generously counted as 13,032, Chris Thorburn got the Thrashers on the board at 4:21 with a wrist shot from the low in the left circle. Bobby Holik and Ilya Kovalchuk assisted on the play.

At 8:12, the Canes tied it. From the inside hashmarks of the left circle, Scott Walker re-directed a Frantisek Kaberle shot from the left point. Ryan Bayda was down in the goal mouth creating traffic, and was initially given credit for the goal, but it was later changed. Walker from Kaberle and Keith Aucoin at 9:12.

Bayda ended up getting on the scoreboard at 19:06 when he one-timed a shot from the right dot. Scott Walker got the only assist.

The first period ended with a Canes power play, which would carry over to the second.

The Hurricanes didn't need much time with the fresh sheet of ice to cash in on the power play. Just 27 seconds into the second frame, big Joe Corvo finished a pretty play, tapping one in from the right dot, making the score 3-1. The play was beautifully set up with a crisp pass from Sergei Samsonov in the left circle. Matt Cullen got the secondary assist.

After this, things got a little crazy. At around the 10:00 mark of the second period, Carolina appeared to have scored a crazy lucky bounce, as the puck went in from well beyond center ice. However, the "goal" was immediately waved off because the crazy bounce that it took was off the referee's skate. No goal can be scored directly off the referee.

Just a short time later, the Hurricanes got a goal that counted. As the Canes entered the Thrashers zone on a three-on-two break, Eric Staal dropped a pass for Erik Cole at the top of the left circle. Cole made no mistake, giving Carolina a 4-1 lead at 10:39. The secondary assist went to Kaberle. That would be the end of Kari Lehtonen's night. It also ended up being the game winner.

There was more crazy stuff with the officials. Hurricanes defenseman Tim Gleason got tangled up with a linesman along the dasher, causing a neutral ice turnover. Erik Christensen carried it in alone and beat Ward easily with an unassisted goal at 17:09 of the second.

There was even more crazy stuff with the officials. Early in the third period, while the Canes were applying a lot of pressure deep in the Thrashers' zone, Garnet Exelby carried the puck over to Johan Hedberg, hoping he would cover the puck and get a whistle. The refs wouldn't give a whistle and forced Hedberg to play the puck. The Thrashers never got the puck out of the zone and Carolina scored a really crazy goal about 30 seconds later. Eric Staal attempted a wrap from behind the goal. The puck went off Exelby's stick, off his helmet, then off Hedberg's helmet and behind him into the goal. A very improbable goal that may have been aided by the non-whistle. Officially, Staal from Cole and Trevor Letowski at 3:41 of the third.

Don Waddell flipped a lid. His face was about as red as the Hurricanes' pants. There was steam coming out of his ears. I actually thought he might either punch referee Mike Hasenfratz or have a heart attack. He screamed and stomped and carried on for a good two minutes without being reprimanded. Hasenfratz gave his explanation of why there was no whistle, but we never heard it.

The Thrashers weren't ready to quit. At 12:17 of the third, Kovalchuk redirected a Ken Klee shot to make the score 5-3. Klee and Alex Zhitnik had the helpers.

In the waning minutes, Atlanta had a hard time getting the puck deep enough to pull Hedberg. Just when they did, but before he could make it all the way to the bench, Eric Staal scored into the empty net with a long bomb from the referee's crease. Kaberle got the only assist.

For just a minute, Carolina had stretched their SE lead to five points. However, Washington beat the Sabres 3-1, which means their lead remains three points. Washington has a game in hand.

The "official" three stars were Erik Cole (third), Scott Walker (second) and Eric Staal (first). On TV, they went to Ryan Bayda (third), Scott Walker (second) and Frantisek Kaberle (first). The RBH stars are a bit different.

THIRD STAR Frantisek Kaberle, CAR --- 3 assists, +3
SECOND STAR Erik Cole, CAR --- GWG, assist
FIRST STAR Eric Staal, CAR --- 2 goals, 1 assist

Carolina will come back home to face the Northwest leading Wild Thursday, then the Sabres on Saturday.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

something about the "Brooks Orpik incident"

Today is an important date for a couple of reasons.

One is that it's my friend Amanda's birthday. I've written about her numerous times in the past. Sadly, we're not close anymore, and I haven't even seen her in more than a year, but I still wish her a happy birthday.

The other thing gives me an opportunity to answer a question that was asked of me a few weeks ago. Today marks the second anniversary of Erik Cole's worst day ever. In a game with the Penguins on March 4, 2006, Cole had two goals in the first two periods. The Canes were holding on to a 6-4 lead in the early stages of the third period when Cole was checked from behind by Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik. After the horrifying head-first collision with the boards and a few moments of laying motionless, Cole left the ice under his own power with what appeared to be a left arm injury. It looked like a left arm injury because he had a fracture of his c-5 vertebra. You can look up all the technical reasons for that, but that kind of injury causes those types of reactions.

Anyway, Cole was out of the game and was out for the balance of the season and the majority of the playoffs. His dramatic return to the Canes in game 6 of the SCF didn't help that night, but he was one of the best players on the ice in game 7.

Orpik was also out for the game and was handed a two game suspension for reckless play.

Canes fans, myself included, were outraged that Orpik didn't visit Cole in the hospital. He didn't call, or even attempt to until months later. He showed little remorse for the end result of his actions. He defended the hit as clean. While he openly said that it was unfortunate that Cole was hurt, that was as far as he went. He became public enemy #1. The two teams didn't meet again that season.

In the 2006-07 season, Orpik was hurt in the first game between the Canes and Penguins. He was lustily booed both times the Penguins visited Raleigh, but nothing ever happened between Orpik and Cole.

This season, there were a couple of near altercations in the second game, but nothing happened. Finally, in the third game, on February 2, Cole and Orpik fought. Orpik wasn't really into it, but the word on the street is that the two talked about it and Orpik agreed that he owed Cole a fight. Cole isn't much of a fighter, but he had to have that one to finally bring something resembling closure to the whole thing. At that point, I think Cole was satisfied. I was satisfied. It was over.

However, when the Penguins returned to Raleigh on Valentine's Day, a lot of fans wouldn't let go. They continued to boo Orpik every time he touched the puck. I said on this blog and in the arena that night that it people needed to move on.

Right after the boarding incident, I was furious. I went on and on for days about how horrible Orpik was. Whether I wanted to admit it or not, I knew that he never intended to hurt Cole like that. He intended to hit him hard. He was reckless, but he didn't want any of that. He could have carried himself a little better in the aftermath, but he's not a monster.

I was one of loudest boobirds in those games last season, but I was actually done with it by the end of that season. And I was definitely done with it when Orpik gave Cole that fight. Erik Cole is done with it. Why shouldn't I be? Why shouldn't the rest of the Caniac nation be?

RBH goes to the movies

Over the weekend, I watched "The Rocket", the 2005 biopic about Maurice Richard. Technically, this movie is titled "Maurice Richard", but it is more commonly known the same way he was.

There's also a documentary about Richard which was released in the 1980's, but this is the one that everyone talks about. As a side note, it irritates me to no end when people don't know the difference between biopic and documentary.

I highly recommend this movie, but I must add that attempting to watch the "English language version" is a horrible idea. It's really off-putting in a number of ways. Just watch the French version and put the subtitles on.

I really enjoyed the movie. It's got lots of hockey action, and a lot of insight into what Richard was as a man. Since I am neither Canadian nor "old enough", I didn't really know much about Richard other than his legendary hockey status. I didn't know how much he had to struggle in an environment (even in Quebec) dominated by anglophones. I didn't know how roughly he was treated by opposing teams players and fans. I didn't know any of the details about the "Richard Riot".

There's a load of NHL players in the movie, most notably Sean Avery as Bob Dill, a boxer-turned hockey tough guy for the Rangers. It's really cool to see Richard (played by Roy Dupuis) decimate Dill (Avery) in a fight that spilled into the penalty box. Good stuff. Good stuff.

The movie begins with the Riot, then goes back to his childhood, then glosses over his career with lots of focus on the Dill fight, and also on the incident which precipitated his suspension, which in turn precipitated the Riot.

I only have a couple of problems with the movie. One is that several years will pass by with no mention of what happened on or off the ice. Another is that the director makes some very sloppily attempts to make his footage look "authentic '50s". Instead of using stock footage of Montréal streets, he shot new footage with a sepia filter. He also sloppily attempted to blend some archival film with some of his own. It wasn't necessary for us to see Dupuis walking through the streets. It wasn't even necessary for us to have seen stock footage of the actual Richard walking through the streets. It just looked awkward and desperate. Maybe I'm too critical, though.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun and I learned some stuff. Check it out yourself, but seriously don't watch the English dubbed version. It's horrible.

As far as hockey movies go, I have to put this one a little below "Miracle", but well above "Mighty Ducks". Well above "Mystery, Alaska". Thankfully, I never saw "Youngblood". I shan't attempt to blaspheme George Roy Hill's fourth best film, so this one has to be #3 on my list of hockey movies. Not that I actually have a list, but you get the idea.

Check it out. You won't be sorry.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Canes trounce Bolts, widen lead

On Saturday, the Hurricanes soundly defeated the Lightning 5-1. With the help of the Maple Leafs, they were able to expand their lead in the Southeast division to five points. Carolina has 14 games to play. Washington has two games in hand and two more games against Carolina. All four of those games are "must win" games for Bruce Boudreau's team.

Carolina got a tremendous team effort to close out the six-game homestand. In those six games, Carolina went 4-1-1. In their last ten games at the big ATM, Carolina has been a very impressive 8-1-1. This will hopefully extend through the rest of the season and into the playoffs. Carolina is poised to win their division and have home-ice advantage, and their recent success at home should be a tremendous advantage.

The most impressive thing about the "total effort" was that every single one of the "new guys" played a huge part in the win.

The scoring started with a "soft" goal given up by Cam Ward. Jeff Halpern tapped in some loose change in front of the goal through Ward's five hole at 7:04 of the first. Michel Ouellet and Mathieu Darche got the assists.

Eric Staal got the equalizer at 10:43. He fought hard for a loose puck in front of the goal, and it looked like he batted the loose puck out of midair to tie the game. Tuomo Ruutu and Timmaaay Gleason got the assists. Time of the goal was 10:43 of the first.

The first period ended with a Carolina power play, which extended for one minute into the second frame. One second after the expiration, Big Joe Corvo had all the time in the world to shoot a howitzer from the high slot, which beat Mike Smith (still wearing a Dallas Stars helmet) high on the blocker side. In what has become somewhat of a recurring theme, the goal was scored while one of the opponents was playing without a stick. This goal came at 1:02 of the second, assisted by Sergei Samsonov and Eric Staal. This one would prove to be the game winner.

Sergei Samsonov scored a power play marker at 10:01, assisted by Frantisek Kaberle and Scott Walker. From the top of the left circle, his one-timer beat Smith cleanly for the 3-1 lead.

Samsonov scored his second goal of the night at 4:02 of the third on a nice backhanded tap-in. Patrick Eaves had a very nice chance that was stopped, but Samsonov jumped on the rebound and slammed it home. Matt Cullen got the secondary assist, but this whole play was set up by Samsonov, streaking down the right wing.

Ruutu got his first goal in a Hurricanes sweater at 6:00 of the third by finishing a gorgeous tic-tac-toe play on the left side of the goal mouth. Eric Staal and Erik Cole had the assists. And the crowd chanted "Ruuty! Ruuty! Ruuty!"

It's really nice to see the fans take such a shine to the new guys. Even when Doug Weight and Mark Recchi were brought in during the year of the Cup, we weren't so quick to embrace them. Last year, the Anson Carter thing was a fiasco. Before that, Carolina was always a seller at the trade deadline.

Sergei Samsonov has been far and away the best of the "new guys", and was probably the GM move of the year, league wide. In 24 games with the Canes, he has registered 21 (11/10) points. All that after he scored just four (0/4) points in 23 games with Chicago.

Joe Corvo has also played well since joining the Canes. He's put up six points (2/4) in nine games with Carolina. We're still one game shy of the standard "let's wait ten games to see how we like him", but I'll go ahead and say that we'd rather have Corvo than Commodore any day of the week. And Twice on Sundays.

The other part of that deal, Patty Eaves, hasn't had much time, but he's looked good. He's only played in three games, but has registered two assists, and came very close to scoring a goal in this game.

Ruuty has three (1/2) points in three games. His counterpart in the trade, Andrew Ladd, has also performed well with his new team. Ladd has two goals in three games played for the Blackhawks.

For this game, it was another one where you could pick any three guys as the stars. Except Bret Hedican. He made a boneheaded pass in his own end which led to the lone Bolts goal.

The "official" stars went to Joe Corvo (third), Eric Staal (second) and Sergei Samsonov (first). Mine were only slightly different. The RBH three stars:
THIRD STAR Tuomo Ruutu, CAR --- 1 goal, 1 assist
SECOND STAR Eric Staal, CAR --- 1 goal, 2 assists, +3
FIRST STAR Sergei Samsonov, CAR --- 2 goals, 1 assist

Carolina will be off until Wednesday. In the interim, Washington will expend one of their two games in hand when they play host to the hot Bruins, who are currently in the sixth playoff spot and would be Carolina's first round opponent.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Russia still playing hardball

The Russian Federation has refused on numerous occasions to sign a transfer agreement between the NHL and the IIHF. They insist that the compensation from the NHL isn't enough and that they are losing their best players for nothing.

That's exactly what's been going on. Since they didn't sign, the players were leaving and the Russian Federation wasn't getting paid a dime. And because of sloppy laws, there was absolutely nothing to prevent an athlete from canceling a contract with a Russian club in order to play in the NHL. You probably recall that Evgeni Malkin canceled a one-year contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk just a couple of days after he signed it. Defection to the United States and his "resignation" via fax became the stuff of spy novels. I wrote a little bit about that here.

Up until now, Russian labor laws were such that any employment contract could be broken by the initiation of the employee so long as the emplyee provided 14 days notice. The "employee" was then free to do whatever he wanted. This is what was happening with players such as Malkin. While the mafia-financed Russian Super League teams can offer huge contracts to star players, some players prefer to play in a system where the mob isn't involved.

This "poaching" by the NHL has made the Russian Federation, the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, and their respective presidents very angry.

In an effort to stop this, the Russian Federation has enacted a law which essentially would put the NHL on the hook for buying out a Russian Super League player's contract. It requires a one month notice of cancellation plus compensation from the employee and/or the new employer to the original employer. In this Russian news article, Vladislav Tretiak is quoted:
"The new chapter of the Labour code provides a transparency in mutual relations of sportsmen, trainers and employers, gives to sportsmen and trainers the right to additional kinds of insurance protection, the right to additional holiday, the right to social indemnifications. Now the order of time translation of the sportsman from one employer to another is precisely regulated, that is very important for those who for any reasons does not manage to get in the basic structure of the command. Besides at a legislative level mutual relations of employers and sports federations on formation of combined teams of Russia are certain. Preschedule cancellation of the contract between the sportsman and its employer under the initiative of the sportsman without valid excuse now will oblige the last to pay to the employer solid indemnification"

Please keep in mind that I DO NOT speak Russian. This is not my translation.

Anyway, it seems like this could be trouble in the future. Russian NHL players, though, have been on the decline. Although a few of the biggest superstars are Russian, there just aren't as many Ruskies in the league anymore. Is this new legislation going to have a huge impact? Maybe not.

Tip of the hat to Jeff Klein at Slap Shot for the tip.


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