TORONTO – When a team has injuries, it inevitably creates opportunities for other players in the lineup.
With point-producing forwards Justin Williams and Matt Cullen out of the lineup, the Carolina Hurricanes have benefited from role players like Chad LaRose, Tuomo Ruutu and Ryan Bayda chipping in some offence.
“It’s huge,” said Hurricanes centre Eric Staal after his team’s 5-4 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday night. “Any time you can get those guys helping out offensively it’s big and it’s going to help you win games. They played a great game again tonight.”
Ruutu and LaRose were particularly productive in the home-and-home sweep of the Leafs, with each contributing two goals and two assists.
“It’s good when they hit the back of the net and you’re getting chances, but two points is the main thing right now, any way we can contribute is a big plus,” LaRose said.
Ruutu came to the Hurricanes in a late-season deal last year with the Chicago Blackhawks. After scoring 23 goals and playing all 82 games in his rookie season of 2003-04, the 25-year-old Finn has been hampered by a series of injuries that have limited his playing time.
He missed a couple of games earlier this season with a groin injury, but has four goals in nine games and at least a point in each of his last four contests.
“He’s a real strong player,” Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said of Ruutu, who was drafted ninth overall by Chicago in 2001. “He’s strong on his feet, he’s strong on the puck, he’s got a great shot, he plays the game hard and it’s going to lead to chances.”
Carolina’s injury troubles haven’t been limited to the forwards, with rearguards Frantisek Kaberle and Joni Pitkanen also currently on the shelf.
Defencemen Dennis Seidenberg and Niclas Wallin both scored for Carolina versus the Leafs and Laviolette said getting some supplementary offence from the blue-liners who are in the lineup is a huge boost for his club.
“We had a couple of big goals – Seids and then Nicky in overtime,” he said. “You get LaRose and Bayda, Ruutu is going, and that’s good when you can get some depth in your scoring.”