After a solid effort but disappointing result in Thursday’s 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Hurricanes are right back at it on Friday at PNC Arena against the Buffalo Sabres.
The game features a perfect storm of entertainment. The game is an important one for a Hurricanes team that has been playing well but needs to rebound quickly from Thursday’s loss to avoid giving back too much of what has recently been gained. The game is also another of the popular ‘Homegrown’ series featuring local food, art and music. And most significantly, the game features the return of Jeff Skinner.
In fitting fashion, Skinner was named the ‘last man in’ or the Atlantic Division on Friday. I say fitting because Skinner burst onto the Raleigh and broader NHL scene in a magical 2010-11 rookie season whose pinnacle was arguably the All-Star game in Raleigh that season before winning the Calder Trophy. Having now done a few of these ‘return’ games with Eric Staal and Cam Ward, I find them to be a wild mix of emotions ranging from being happy to see a former hero return but also the more conflicting part of considering the team’s recent losing past and the difficulty of letting go of favorites for the fan base.
Outside of Skinner’s return, the game is a HUGE one for the Hurricanes. The five-game winning streak made up some ground on the playoff cut line, but the Hurricanes are very clearly still on the outside looking in with the need to string together more runs to climb back into it. To add a level of importance, the Sabres are actually the team that the Canes are chasing right now for the last wild card spot. With a regulation win, the Hurricanes pull within five points of the Sabres. With a regulation loss, the grows back to a sizable nine points.
Against that back drop, here are my watch points for tonight:
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Buffalo Sabres
1) A positive carry over from Thursday
Thursday’s effort from the Canes really was among the team’s best on the season. Brind’Amour balanced ice time and the group in total responded with maximum effort to a man. As I noted in my recap, the Hurricanes were up late in the game and posting a shutout, and it was not the variety that required Mrazek to stand on his head. The Hurricanes were actually just better than Tampa Bay through most of the game. But the game ended with nothing to show for it. The burning question for Friday is whether the Canes spent all they could on Thursday and will also suffer from the letdown and be flat on Friday or whether they can just pick up on Friday as if it is the fourth period from Thursday. I will be watching early to see if the Canes can again dial it up.
2) Jeff Skinner
No doubt, it will be odd seeing him in an opposing uniform. I will be watching to see if he also dials it up a notch in his return to what was his home as a young adult for eight years starting as an 18-year old. I also hope that the team does a great version of the right thing with a tribute for a player who was a fan favorite for eight years.
3) Curtis McElhinney
One would figure that a Canes team that played the night before could see a few lapses here and there. In recent times, the Canes goalie tandem has been phenomenal at covering up blemishes here and there with stout goaltending. Friday’s game is likely to e another where the Canes will need to get at least equal if not better goaltending to come out with a win. I will be watching to see if McElhinney is again sharp and can continue the current strong goaltending run.
The puck drops at 7:30pm at PNC Arena.