RALEIGH — With a rare weekend off, Carolina Hurricanes goalie Justin Peters did all he could to kick back and rest a little.
“It was nice to recharge,” Peters said Monday. “You just try to get away from the game as much as you can. I took one day and did absolutely nothing but relax.”
That was Saturday. That was a day of letting the mind go blank. By Sunday, Peters was back on the ice, thinking hockey again, getting in some work with goaltender coach Greg Stefan.
On Monday, it was a one-hour team practice. On Tuesday, it’s the Winnipeg Jets and what shapes up as the start of the final push in the regular season.
Peters will be the starting goaltender in arguably the Canes’ biggest game thus far this season. The Jets (17-14-2) lead the Southeast Division. The Canes (15-13-2) are second, four points behind the Jets, albeit with three games in hand on Winnipeg.
It’s a four-point game. It’s at home. It’s a game the Canes, winless in their past five games before their break, badly need to win.
“There’s going to be huge games from here on out,” Peters said. “But we’re not looking past Winnipeg. Our focus is for us to control our own destiny and focus on ourselves.”
Canes coach Kirk Muller said Monday his team, which last played Thursday against New Jersey, was “rejuvenated and refocused” after a veritable spring break in the NHL’s condensed season. It has a full complement of healthy forwards – 15 were at practice – and will have winger Chad LaRose back in the lineup after missing the past 10 games with a concussion.
Defensemen Justin Faulk, who has a sprained knee, and Bobby Sanguinetti, out with an upper-body injury, were not at practice Monday. But defenseman Joe Corvo, after missing three games with a lower-body injury, was activated from injured reserve Monday and at practice.
What has proven to be a dangerous position is goaltender. The No. 1 goalie, Cam Ward, suffered a serious knee sprain March 3 at Florida after a collision in the crease. Then Dan Ellis cut himself with a skate late in third period Thursday against the Devils.
The Canes on Monday recalled goaltender John Muse on an emergency basis from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL as Ellis was placed on injured reserve..
The Hurricanes are 3-5-1 since Ward was injured, but Peters and Ellis are hardly to blame for the falloff. Some lackadaisical defense by the five skaters on the ice at times has left the goalie in tough spots.
Peters, 26, was the loser in his last start – a 4-1 defeat on the road March 16 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. But no one in a Carolina sweater played very well that night.
Just four days before the loss in Tampa, Peters shut out the Washington Capitals 4-0 at the Verizon Center. He was solid from start to finish, with few blemishes.
As for Tuesday’s game, Muller said he has no qualms with Peters in net, noting Peters’ confidence and competitive edge.
“He’s not looking at this going, ‘Wow, how did I get here, in this position?’ ” Muller said. “He wants to be in the nets.”
A bigger concern for the Canes now is finding a way to beat the other goaltender and score goals. They’re scored one goal in each of their past four games – the last two goals coming on the power play.
LaRose was slotted Monday on Jordan Staal’s line opposite winger Jeff Skinner, and Muller said he’s counting on LaRose for extra energy. Tuomo Ruutu, playing his second game since his return from hip surgery, should be on Riley Nash’s line with Patrick Dwyer – Nash being recalled Monday from the Checkers.
The Canes have relied heavily on their top line of Eric Staal, Jiri Tlusty and Alexander Semin, and Jordan Staal said it’s vital the others relieve some of that pressure.
“All the way down I think we need to be better if we’re going to want to make a push here,” he said. “Eric’s line is obviously one of the best lines in the league this year (and) a huge reason we are where we are. There’s going to be more accountability all through the lineup to produce.”
Rest time is over. It’s time for the final push.
“This is the race now,” Muller said. “It’s right now.”