The biggest game today is obviously the Superbowl, but the hockey gods have shined down and dropped a perfectly-timed 2:30pm Hurricanes game onto the schedule. Watch Canes win. Have about 1 1/2 hour gap for food prep or transportation to Superbowl party. Watch Panthers bring second professional sports championship to North Carolina 10 years after the Carolina Hurricanes brought the first one. The script is written. Hopefully it happens that way.
The Hurricanes play the swing game of their 3-game road trip coming out of the all-star break. A win would push the team to 2-1 which is about the pace that they need to win at through the rest of season. A loss sees them minus 1 game for the stretch and falling even farther below the cut line.
After a sluggish return on Wednesday in Calgary and the resulting loss, the Hurricanes rebounded in a big way in Winnipeg. The team surged to 4 quick goals in barely more than half of a period of hockey, had to do a bit too much holding on for dear life but ultimately held on to get a win. From the Canes side, the hope is that the team can carry forward the same jump and energy out of the gate.
The story from the Montreal Canadiens side is an interesting 1. After bursting out for 9 consecutive wins to start the season and positioning themselves as an early front-runner for the President’s Trophy, the team cratered magnanimously upon losing Carey Price to injury. The team has been 1 of the worst teams in the league since the beginning of December and actually sits below the Hurricanes in the standings. The Canadiens are coming off a win yesterday afternoon against Edmonton, so they do bring short-term momentum into the Sunday match up and hopefully for the Canes tired legs from playing yesterday.
Here is what I will be watching for the 2:30pm start:
1) Same jump
The Canes were light years better in terms of pace, effort and intensity on Friday compared to Wednesday. Here is hoping that the team can similarly pounce on a Canadiens team that has generally struggled lately and also played yesterday.
2) Cam Ward
The expectation is that he will get the start in net after winning on Friday. He looked pretty good in his return after a 3-week layoff due to a concussion. He did allow 3 goals, but in total was good if not great and held the fort well enough when Winnipeg surged in the second half of the game.
3) The horse that is carrying the team
Jordan Staal’s line continues to be the team’s best and the horse that the team is riding to victory many nights. In addition to being great defensively, the line has recently upped the scoring. Like many other recent wins, Nestrasil/JStaal/Nordstrom was the team’s best line on Wednesday dominating puck possession most shifts and notching 3 goals.
4) Additional help
I continue to think that the path even further upward for the Canes requires 2 continued efforts and 2 new ones. From the “just keep doing it” category, the Canes much continue to get at least decent goaltending that gives them a chance most nights, and Jordan Staal’s line must continue to win on a nightly basis against the other teams’ best. (That role becomes even more important for the rest of February with a heavy home schedule that gives Bill Peters the ability to dictate line match ups and skate Jordan Staal’s line a ton against the other team’s best scoring line.) From the “needs to be added” category, 2 keys jump out. First, the young blue line must find a second wind and play sound defensive hockey on a nightly basis. This with sound goaltending gives you a chance every night. Second, I think 1 of the other 2 lines, ideally Eric Staal’s, needs to find a higher gear scoring-wise to make the team deeper offensively.
I keep hoping for a second half Eric Staal surge to start.
Puck drops at 2:30pm on Fox Sports with John, Tripp and Michelle.