It was a simple icing touch up. One that happens close to 10 times a game, but this one went so horribly wrong for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Defenseman Joni Pitkanen was in a race with the Washington Capital’s Troy Brouwer, in a close 4-3 game, to touch the puck first. Brouwer got his stick caught in the Finnish defenseman’s skates and while most likely not on purpose, it caused Pitkanen to go awkwardly into the end boards.
The next moments featured Pitkanen writhing in pain on the ice before a stretcher had to be brought out to take him into the dressing room.
Pitkanen became another victim in the Hurricanes’ injury parade that could keep the team out of the playoffs this season.
The last line of defense is where Carolina has dealt with the biggest blow in injuries this season. The team was controlling the Southeast Division when star net-minder Cam Ward was injured in a game against the Florida Panthers on March 3.
Ward’s own defenseman, Justin Faulk, crashed into the 29-year-old goalie, but Ward stayed on the ice. On the next save, Ward fell to the ice and had to be taken off with assistance. Ward ended up spraining his knee and the team later announced he would miss 6-8 weeks.
Since the injury, the Hurricanes have gone 4-10-1, including a three-game losing streak the team is currently on. In his absence back-up Dan Ellis and Justin Peters have experienced a tough time earning wins, but not all of the blame can be put on the two goalies. In their 10 losses, the Hurricanes have scored one goal or less seven times.
The earliest Ward could return is during the stretch run at the end of the season, but at that point, the Hurricanes may already be out of the playoff hunt. If Ward’s injury takes the expected eight weeks, the Canadian goaltender may not play another game this season.
Ellis also lost a few games to injury, in which Peters was handed the reigns. Peters only won one game during that stretch and faced criticism for his play.
Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, Pitkanen was not the first defenseman to go down with an injury this season. Faulk was also injured in a game against the Panthers. The defenseman’s injury was announced as a second-degree MCL sprain and has since missed seven games since it was announced his injury would take two to four weeks to heal.
Since Faulk’s time on the injured reserve, the Hurricanes have experienced a ton of problems on the power-play. Carolina currently sits at 27th in the league on the man-advantage, clicking at a woefully low 13.7 percent. To help improve the power-play GM Jim Rutherford brought in Marc-Andre Bergeron to fill Faulk’s void.
According to the Raleigh News & Observer, Faulk is skating with the team and could be back next week. The Hurricanes need the second-year pro back as soon as possible if they want to make a push for the playoffs late in the season.
Rookie Bobby Sanguinetti also missed four games in the past two weeks causing Brett Bellemore to play in his first NHL games of his career.
The offense is the only corps for the Hurricanes that have not featured any major injuries this season, except for Tuomu Ruutu’s injury before the season started. However, the Finnish-forward was expected to be out for the whole season, but made a quick recovery and rejoined the team in March.
The 30-year-old did miss a couple games after coming back, but is in the lineup again and has three points (all assists) in five games this season.
What Injuries Have Done to the Hurricanes
At the beginning and mid-point of the season it looked like the Hurricanes could have taken the Southeast Division and had home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
But since the injuries to Ward, Faulk and most recently, Pitkanen, the team has fallen off going from top of the Southeast division to third. Right now the Hurricanes sit in 13th place in the Eastern Conference and unless the team can make a turn around and get Faulk and Ward back from injury, playoffs may not be possible for the free-falling Hurricanes.
Wes Herrmann graduated from Penn State with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2014. He used to write hockey for Cardiac Cane and Broad Street Buzz and has loved the game since birth. Follow him on Twitter at @Wes_Herrm or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org