RALEIGH — It's not as if Erik Cole is facing his first serious injury. Or his first broken bone. Or broken leg.
The Carolina Hurricanes forward missed the last 29 games of the 2002-03 season with a broken left fibula. Three seasons later, he was out the last 22 games of the regular season with a compression fracture of a vertebra in his neck.
Now, Cole is sidelined again. He will be out four to six weeks with a broken bone in his lower left leg after a collision with Boston Bruins defenseman Dennis Wideman in Saturday's game in Boston.
"He's had a tough break," goaltender Cam Ward said Monday. "It's just the way Erik plays. He plays hard, he drives to the net, and when he plays like that, he's prone to get those type of injuries.
"No question it's big shoes to fill with Erik Cole going down. But that's part of the game. You look at the depth of the team and we feel confident that guys are able to step in."
Coach Paul Maurice said Tim Conboy, a healthy scratch the first two games, would be in the lineup tonight as the Hurricanes try to rebound from an 0-2 start. Carolina, beaten 2-0 in the season-opener by the Philadelphia Flyers and then pounded 7-2 by the Bruins, faces the Tampa Bay Lightning (0-1) at the RBC Center.
Conboy likely will join Stephane Yelle and Tom Kostopoulos on the fourth line, with Scott Walker moving up to Rod Brind'Amour's line. Walker missed practice Monday with a cold, but Maurice said he expected him to play tonight.
Defenseman Joni Pitkanen also should return. Pitkanen missed training camp after arthroscopic knee surgery Sept. 10 and was held out of the first two games but did rejoin practice last week.
Cole was injured late in the game at TD Banknorth Garden as he brought the puck down the boards. Wideman attempted a check but hit Cole's leg with his right leg.
The Bruins had the 7-2 lead at the time, but Maurice said Monday he had no problem with Wideman's hit.
"I don't think there was an intent to knee," he said. "I think [Wideman] came over to, I think, throw a shoulder or a hip check."
The Hurricanes traded Cole to the Edmonton Oilers for Pitkanen after the 2007-08 season but brought him back as part of a March 4 trade that sent forward Justin Williams to the Los Angeles Kings. Cole had 15 points in the last 17 regular-season games and teamed effectively with center Eric Staal on the top line as the Canes went 12-3-2 to reach the playoffs. Cole's bullrushes often cleared more ice for Staal, who had 12 goals and 13 assists in the last 17 games.
"We're going to miss Erik and certainly his speed," Maurice said. "But Eric Staal has been a good player without him."
In Monday's practice, Maurice had Sergei Samsonov and Tuomo Ruutu on the wings with Staal, and Staal said Cole's absence wouldn't adversely affect his play.
"I'm not worried," Staal said. "Obviously, he's a good player and he brings lots to the table, but I can still be successful whether he's on the wing or not.
"I'll have to respond and play well with whomever I'm with. We'll obviously miss him while he's gone, but we'll keep going and we'll be all right without him."
The Hurricanes will be looking for improvement in nearly every facet of play tonight against the Lightning. Their special teams, in particular, have been woeful in the first two games, but it goes beyond that, Ward said.
"Everybody believes in this hockey team, but with that being said it all starts with the work ethic and the compete level," Ward said. "Maybe we were taking things a little bit too lightly just knowing how good of a team we think we have.
"At the end of the day you have to come to the rink and work. It's going to start [tonight] with the first shift, having that competitiveness."
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