Though they lead the Eastern Conference, the Carolina Hurricanes had a major void to fill offensively. They did a pretty good job of doing it.
The acquisition of Recchi shortly before Thursday’s trade deadline could help Carolina atone for the absence of Erik Cole, who will miss the rest of the regular season after fracturing a vertebra in his neck on Saturday at Pittsburgh. Cole had a career-high 60 points in 60 games before the injury.
“I didn’t feel pressure to do it, it wasn’t an absolute necessity,” Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford said. “It’s not like we were out looking at several players. While the loss of Erik hurts our team, if we weren’t able to get Mark Recchi, we weren’t going to get anyone else.”
Recchi had 24 goals and 33 assists with the Penguins before they traded him to Carolina for defenseman Niklas Nordgren, minor league forward Krys Kolanos and a second-round pick in 2007.
A 17-year veteran who waived his no-trade clause to make this deal happen, Recchi joins Doug Weight as midseason acquisitions by a small-market Carolina team making a push for its first Stanley Cup championship.
“This group of players have played extremely well,” Rutherford said. “They certainly have shown that we have as good a chance as anyone else in the playoffs. Any time you get to that point, and you can add elite players such as Weight and Recchi, you need to get that kind of depth to do well.”
It was believed the Panthers might be shopping some top players at the trade deadline, but instead, they signed captain Olli Jokinen to a four-year deal worth $21 million and gave center Chris Gratton a two-year contract extension on Thursday.
“This sends a message—not only to the players, but also to the fans— about the direction the team is going, and that we’ve identified key players,” Florida coach Jacques Martin said.
While Jokinen tops the Panthers with 66 points, including seven in five games since the Olympic break, Gratton has 30 points this season while leading the team with 92 penalty minutes.
Florida, though, has the third-fewest points in the East with 57, 34 behind conference-leading Carolina.
The Hurricanes have outscored the Panthers 15-8 in winning all five meetings this season. Goaltender Martin Gerber was in net for all five wins, posting two shutouts and a 1.58 goals-against average.
These teams also meet Saturday at the BankAtlantic Center.
The Hurricanes had won five straight, including four since the break, before losing 3-2 in a shootout with Philadelphia on Wednesday night.
Carolina seemed to have a 2-1 victory in hand before Flyers defenseman Freddy Meyer tied the game with 0.2 seconds left in the third period.
“That wasn’t a good way to lose,” wing Ray Whitney said. “It’s unfortunate they got somewhat of a scramble goal that was kind of lucky.”
It was just Carolina’s second loss in eight shootouts.
The Hurricanes now face a tough goaltender in Roberto Luongo, who has posted a 2.38 GAA and .928 save percentage in five post-break games. The Panthers, though, have gone just 2-2-1.
Luongo made 35 saves as Florida snapped a three-game losing streak with a 6-2 win over Ottawa on Wednesday.