A week ago I was presented with a theory about the Hurricanes. The blogger get together was winding down, and somehow the topic of rivals comes up. Chris Smith from wnymedia.net stated that the Carolina Hurricanes are the Sabres’ natural rivals, and he actually made a pretty solid argument for it.
Here it is: the other so called “rivals” Buffalo has don’t care about us. The Leafs have more important teams to worry about, and their fans only care because we have cheap tickets. Ottawa cares about the Leafs. Montreal has never cared about the Sabres. We don’t play Dallas enough, and everyone hates Philly, which puts a lot on their plate.
With Carolina you have a recent history of important games, a general hatred between fans, and a variety of intangibles that make rivalries significant. Sabres fans have the “shoulda woulda coulda” angle, and Hurricanes fans have a Stanley Cup with an inferiority complex. Add in the sheer number of former Western New Yorkers living in the Carolinas and you practically have a built in home crowd on the road trip to RBC. And for those that turned coat once they moved…
The major problem with this theory is that the Sabres just don’t play the Canes enough. Tonight marks their first meeting of the season, over three months into the season. However, a quick look at the standings tells me that if there isn’t a rivalry between the two teams, one will develop pretty soon.
With just two points separating the two teams and two more games in February, each game will be a very important match up in the playoff race. Add in a meeting in April, just two games before the end of the regular season, and the potential is there for a showdown the entire conference is interested in. All of that makes me remember why we dislike Carolina so much in the first place, and brings the proper level of importance to tonight’s game. Memories of the past are what make rivalries special, but these days it has been a different Hurricanes team than we remember.
For example, if you drive into Oswego you’ll notice a sign with the wrong colors on it. It says “Home of Erik Cole” in red and black, but he’s been an Oiler all season. A familiar face in a Hurricanes jersey, he was traded in July for Joni Pitkanen. Other new faces for Carolina include Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves, who came over from Ottawa last season. Tuomo Ruutu is also a fresh face, one that usually has more restraint than his brother.
With these new faces Carolina has struggled, and after a difficult start resulted in the firing of their head coach, the Canes have improved as of late. They went 7-3 until a recent four game losing streak, which they bring into tonight’s game. Those four losses came against Boston, Florida, Ottawa, and Toronto; with only Boston a current playoff team. Not a good stretch, but one that only makes tonight so much more important.
A big problem for Carolina is that the Southeast Conference just isn’t as weak as it used to be. Tampa Bay and Atlanta are still poor teams, but Florida has improved on the strength of good goaltending, and Washington has taken over the reigns as division leader. The third playoff spot is no longer guaranteed, nor are a few easy games against division opponents eight times a year.
As far as the big guns for Carolina go, Eric Staal and Ray Whitner are pretty much the long and short of it. Tuomo Ruutu is their third leading scorer, which is more a statement about the state of the Hurricanes than Ruutu. Cam Ward has struggled this season, and Corvo has probably been their best defenseman. Oh, and Rob Brind’Amour still has a pulse.
The stakes are well known, which should make for good hockey. The rivalry may be somewhat new, but the memories are fresh enough to make for a good crowd. Faces change, but the (brief) history never does.