The Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals meet tonight at the Verizon Center. For each club it will be the most important game of the season so far.
The 'Canes lead the Southeast Division by a meager two points, but could clinch the division title with a win in regulation. The Caps, meanwhile, desperately need a win to keep their fragile playoff hopes alive.
Both teams have been among the hottest in the league recently, as Carolina has gone 12-3-1 in their last 16 games, while the Caps are 12-4 in the same time frame.
Both teams have relied upon their superstars. Alexander Ovechkin and Eric Staal have been among the league leaders in points during those winning streaks.
The Hurricanes received some good news on Monday, as former 30-goal scorers Ray Whitney and Justin Williams were cleared to play. Coach Peter Laviolette claimed that both are “probable” for the game.
Whitney hasn’t played in a few weeks because of an infected ankle, while Williams has been out of commission for months recovering from major knee reconstruction. Neither has spent an abundance of time on the ice in preparation, but both are Stanley Cup Champions and their abilities and desire are unquestionable.
Laviolette also mentioned that he would not break up the chemistry of the top three lines, which have played so successfully together during the past six weeks.
Whitney and Williams practiced with Jeff Hamilton, so that will probably be Carolina’s fourth line. Bret Hedican is also expected to return to action after missing the previous game with a torso injury.
That would likely mean a lineup resembling the following for Carolina:
Both teams are expecting to play their starting goalies, with Carolina sending out Cam Ward to face Washington's Cristobal Huet.
Bubba’s Questions of the Game
Bret Hedican and Tim Gleason have had pretty good success recently, shutting down Ovechkin and his linemates. Can they keep it up?
Cam Ward has been outstanding during the month of March. Can he continue his streak into April?
Will Williams and Whitney be able to shake off the rust and contribute on the score sheet?
Will the Washington youngsters choke under the big-time pressure? Remember their last “big game” at home against the Penguins on national television? With the score tied and less than a minute to go, Nicklas Backstrom's failed clearing attempt put the puck into his own net.
The game before that, Donald Brashear took some foolish penalties, which helped the Bruins overtake the Caps near the end of that game.
Don’t be surprised if there is another similar type of meltdown during the third period of a close contest tonight.
This is the kind of game that hockey players, hockey fans, and hockey bloggers live for. Start time is 7:00 PM and can be seen on FSN. Can’t wait!