Hurricanes ready to step up for injured teammate

EDMONTON, Alberta -- The Carolina Hurricanes didn't act worried.

Two Canes stood on opposite sides of center ice, playfully flipping a puck back and forth at each other in some sort of impromptu game that only a hockey player would understand.

Throughout Friday's practice, there were plenty of smiles, plenty of encouraging words, plenty of stick-tapping salutes when someone whipped off a great shot or slid across the ice to make an acrobatic save.

Hard-nosed coach Peter Laviolette even got in on the fun, shooting the puck past goalie Cam Ward in a little game of one-on-one.

"I thought we were friends," Ward quipped.

Now to the serious side of things. The Hurricanes will have to play Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals without injured center Doug Weight, but they're confident Matt Cullen -- or anyone else who's called upon -- will step in to fill the void.

"We prided ourselves all year on the depth we have," left winger Ray Whitney said. "Obviously, we'll miss Doug. But we have guys who can step up and take on the workload."

Cullen is the most likely choice to step up. He was playing center before Weight was acquired from St. Louis in January, prompting a move to wing for the rest of the season.

Now he's back to his natural position.

"It shouldn't be much of a transition," Cullen said. "I've kind of played everything this season. I've played on the point [during power plays] a lot and I've played wing and I've played center, so it's actually been really good for me because I've seen the game from different angles."

The 29-year-old Cullen joined the Hurricanes this season and put up the best numbers of his eight-year career -- 25 goals and 24 assists. But he would never compare himself to Weight, a 15-year veteran who once scored 104 points in a season.

"We'll miss him and we certainly hope he'll be back [for Game 7] if we need him," Cullen said.

Then again, the Hurricanes still managed to make it to the finals after losing 30-goal scorer Erik Cole in late March. The loss of Weight is another blow, but Carolina appears to have enough depth up the middle to cope with the loss.

Carolina stalwarts Rod Brind'Amour and Eric Staal anchor the top two lines. Cullen, Kevyn Adams and Josef Vasicek are all capable of taking over duties on the third and fourth lines.

"You can't replace Cole. We won't be able to replace Doug Weight," Laviolette said. "But we're going to have to. Somebody else is going to have to step up. We have got lots of centermen who can move around to any position. We played out of position so many times during the course of the year, tried different things and still always seemed to find success with it."

Weight played a key role on the power play, which scored all three of Carolina's goals in Game 5. Edmonton looks forward to facing a team that won't be quite as effective with the man advantage.

"Dougie is a huge part of the power play and controls it really well," Edmonton's Ryan Smyth said. "He has got great leadership on and off the ice, and he's going to be a huge hole that they miss."

But the Hurricanes seem to have shrugged off the injury to Weight and a disappointing overtime loss in Game 5 that cost them a chance to clinch the Stanley Cup on home ice. They still have a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series and know they would return to Raleigh for Game 7 if Edmonton wins Saturday night.

"It's a game. You might as well have fun at it," Brind'Amour said after the spirited one-hour practice. "All that other stuff is in the past. We're just looking ahead."