Here's how quickly things can change in the NHL, when an organization's depth suddenly can be tested because of injuries and a team can either fill in the gaps and keep moving along or begin to sink:
On the night of Dec. 15, Zach Boychuk, Brett Carson and some other Charlotte Checkers teammates gathered at an apartment in Charlotte to watch the Carolina Hurricanes' road game against the Florida Panthers. Less than two minutes into the game, the Panthers led 2-0, knocking Cam Ward out of the net, and it soon was 3-0 in the first period.
"We were like, 'The Canes aren't too hot tonight,' " Boychuk recalled. "All of a sudden it was boom, boom, boom, boom."
The Hurricanes scored the next four goals to win 4-3 at the BankAtlantic Center, and Boychuk and the guys were especially happy that goaltender Justin Peters had been an instrumental part of the comeback. Their former American Hockey League teammate relieved Ward early in the first and was the winner.
What neither Boychuk nor Carson could have known that December night, of course, was that the next time the Canes played at BankAtlantic, they would be part of a comeback win. That was Friday, when Carolina fell behind 2-0 in the first, then bounced back for a 5-3 win over the Panthers as Peters again was the winner.
Jeff Skinner had a pair of goals and an assist, and Tuomo Ruutu had three assists and was credited with 10 of Carolina's 57 hits in the game. Peters, whose play this season as Ward's backup has been sporadic, got the start and overcame a shaky start to finish with 32 saves.
Boychuk, playing on the top line with Eric Staal and Erik Cole, assisted on Staal's goal in the third period that gave the Canes a 3-2 lead and had six hits. Zac Dalpe, recalled Dec. 31 from the Checkers, was in for nearly 13 minutes and again played on Brandon Sutter's line.
"It's good that we can bring kids up from the minor league and I don't feel nervous about playing them in the top nine [forwards]," Canes coach Paul Maurice said Saturday. "Boychuk has got a great set of hands and when he bangs, he's an NHL player. Dalpe's got just incredible speed, and when he can use that in the top nine it's a help for us."
Carson had 11 minutes of ice time on defense, including 21/2 minutes on the penalty kill as the Panthers failed to score on all three power plays. Jon Matsumoto, quickly called up Friday to replace an injured Ryan Carter, filled in as the fourth-line center and did his part.
"We've got lots of young guys who want to be here," said Boychuk, who was recalled Dec. 17 after an injury to Jiri Tlusty. "We're just going out there and trying to survive in this league and be consistent players."
The Hurricanes (19-15-6) go into today's game against the Atlanta Thrashers with a 4-0-2 record in their past six games. In the past five, they've been without defenseman Joni Pitkanen (upper-body injury) and forward Jussi Jokinen (lower-body) but have not had a dropoff in play.
Pitkanen may return today. Pitkanen has been physically cleared, Maurice said, but he and his wife, Sini, were expecting the birth of their first child.
"He's becoming a father today, we think," Maurice said Saturday. "I'm expecting he's going to be able to play unless labor goes longer than we think it will."
Maurice said Jokinen will need more time to heal. He also was not sure if Ward would be able to start today, saying a decision would be made this morning.
"He wasn't feeling 100 percent," Maurice said. "If he's not feeling 100 percent then I'm not going to play him."
Maurice said Carson, also called up Dec. 31, will be reassigned to the Checkers when Pitkanen rejoins the lineup.
"There's probably two or three more guys in Charlotte who could come up and contribute, too, and be playing in our spots," Carson said. "It says a lot about what the Canes have done in recent years in drafting and trades and picking up younger guys.
"It's always nice, when you're down there, to come up to help win games and show you can win with you in the lineup."
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