Thursday night's game for the New York Rangers at the Carolina Hurricanes (7:00 p.m. EST) is a game of firsts -- both good and bad. They'll play their first game of the season without captain Ryan Callahan, who is day-to-day with a bruised foot. Newly acquired forward/defenseman John Scott will make his Rangers debut. Marc Staal will also play his brother, Eric, for the first time since he suffered a concussion from his hit. New York is 2-0 versus Carolina this season.
Most importantly for the Rangers: they can ill-afford a letdown this month when they play 17 games in 30 days with a bunch of back-to-backs and three games in four nights. For the Eastern Conference's best team, it's a great test and the string of games should flow nicely into the playoffs -- hopefully with momentum n New York's side.
The Hurricanes, 24-26-13, were sellers at the deadline and are eight points back of a playoff spot. They've got about the same goals scored per game as the Rangers, but the difference lies in the fact they've given up the eighth-most goals in the NHL. February has been their best month and is another reason why New York cannot take them lightly. The Cans have lost just once in regulation -- 6-1-4. After starting the season very slowly, Staal has really picked it up with 54 points and a team-leading 19 goals. Jeff Skinner comes in at a far second with 34 points and 16 goals, though he's only played in 47 games because of a concussion.
Based on the way coach John Tortorella utilizes his lines, you can expect that the fourth line, with Scott and Mike Rupp, gets very little time. Ruslan Fedotenko will occupy Callahan's normal spot on the Mike Richards-Carl Hagelin line, though I would expect John Mitchell to get bounced up there from time to time.
Martin Biron receives the start on the first of a back-to-back really looking to get back on track. He has one win in his last four starts -- none particularly taxing -- and hasn't allowed fewer than three in any of them.