Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 03/03/10 at 03:35 AM ET
The Hurricanes sent a total of four players from three different nations to the Olympic games this February, and all four players returned with hardware. They are one of three NHL teams that had players from each of the three medal-winning countries. Joni Pitk#&228;nen and Tuomo Ruutu won bronze for Finland. Tim Gleason won silver for the USA, and Eric Staal won gold for Canada. Staal became just the 23rd player in history to win an IIHF World Championship, an Olympic gold medal and a Stanley Cup.
These players spent two weeks playing against each other, and they returned to being teammates without missing a beat. The Canes headed into the break as the hottest team in the league, and they continued their ways on Tuesday with a 5-1 win over the lowly Maple Leafs.
Justin Peters, in just his third NHL start, got his third win against a team that has clearly given up. He got the game’s first star and continues to prove himself to be a very capable NHL goaltender. Also in the game, Chad LaRose returned from injury to score a shorthanded goal and pitch in two assists. Not bad. Second star for him. Jussi Jokinen, who was left off the Finnish national team, scored the game-winning goal.
Defenseman Aaron Ward was a healthy scratch in this game as Quebec-born Alexandre Picard played his first game since being acquired from the Sens via trade a few weeks ago. This could be a sign that Ward is about to be dealt. Rumors are circulating that teams including the Bruins are interested in picking him up for a playoff run. Second round pick? The trading deadline is less than a day away, and we’ll know all by sundown Wednesday. Other rumors are still circulating about Ray Whitney and how he’ll waive his NTC for a chance to play with a cup contender.
A few weeks ago, when Carolina was mired in the NHL’s cellar and was struggling, it was a foregone conclusion that they would be a seller at the trading deadline and that they would find themselves well out of the playoff hunt. In the past several week, though, they have found themselves, and they’ve caught fire. It’s probably still too late for them to make up the ground they lost in October and November, but they’re really looking good. If the season had 40 games left instead of 20, everyone would be talking about Carolina as a playoff team instead of as a team holding onto a prayer.
Justin Peters looked great in nets, stopping 32 of 33 shots that he faced. Like Manny Legace, he’s going to be a free agent come July 1, and it’s going to be impossible to let him get away. He’s just 22 years old, and by season’s end he will have enough NHL experience to hit the ground running for the big club next fall. Even if some other move is made for Raleigh, he could be a rock star in Charlotte.
The scoring in this game got started by a play that was pretty standard issue Chad LaRose. During a Canes penalty kill, there was a pretty innocent-looking zone clear all the way down to J-S Giguere. He was pretty lazy in going behind the net to fetch it, and he bobbled the puck under pressure from Sharpie, who then deposited the puck into the empty net.
Jussi Jokinen’s goal early in the second was set up beautifully by The Wizard, who may or may not be dealt at the deadline. It’s looking like Jim Rutherford isn’t going to accept the standard return of “second round draft pick in 2010” for Whitney, and Whitney isn’t going to waive his NTC for the first guy who shows up with flowers and candy. The landscape is a little different than it was at the beginning of February and, miraculously, Carolina is actually in the playoff hunt. This will certainly make JR a little less quick to sell and Whitney a little less quick to take flight. Jokinen’s goal was his 24th of the season, and I’m still having a hard time figuring out how and why he was left off the Finnish Olympic team.
Brandon Sutter scored a really pretty hard-working goal later in the second by digging and poking at a rebound and a poorly controlled puck by Giguere.
Still later in the second, Tuomo Ruutu put the game well out of reach with his thirteenth marker of the season.
Sergei Samsonov made it 5-0 at 8:17 of the third on a play where the entire Leafs team fell asleep. It’s hard to tell whether the leafs were mesmerized by Samsonov’s dancing, if they assumed he would dance but not shoot, or if they just gave up, but no fewer than three Leafs players stood completely flat footed while the crafty Russian danced and made them pay for being lazy. His shot was poorly played by Giguere, who ended up gloving it into his own net.
The Canes have now won six games in a row and a dizzying ten of their last twelve. This is a very dangerous team right now, and a team that nobody would want to face in the playoffs. However, the harsh reality is that they would have to win eighteen of the last 20 games to be in a position to grab the eighth playoff position. With Cam Ward’s health a big question mark, however, this team wouldn’t want to ride Manny Legace and Justin Peters into the playoffs. Or would they?
Next up, Matt Cullen and the Senators come to Raleigh on Thursday. By then, the Hurricanes might be without Ray Whitney, or Aaron Ward, or any handful of other players. Other players that are rumored to be trade pieces include: Chad LaRose, Joe Corvo, Rod Brind’Amour.
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About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.