|Playoff-contending teams in the Eastern Conference have to be looking at the schedule and wondering when the Carolina Hurricanes are going to cool off. They have one of the NHL’s top records since the All-Star break and have responded to the teachings of new head coach Kirk Muller, who took over for Paul Maurice on Nov. 28, 2011. |
Four consecutive wins over quality opponents have pulled the Hurricanes within five points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, but it will be a tough task with many teams ahead playing strong hockey, as well. Going into last night’s games, the Ottawa Senators (84 points) held a four-point edge on the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres – who each had 80 points with the Capitals leading on tiebreakers. If the Hurricanes are going to sneak into the playoffs, it would require a near-perfect record in their final eight games of the season.
The Hurricanes’ winning streak follows a stretch in which they lost five of seven games, culminating in a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Mar. 13. After that loss, Carolina reeled off wins over league-leading St. Louis, Minnesota, Winnipeg and Southeast Division leaders Florida. Regardless of where they stand once the season ends, the Hurricanes are playing their best hockey of the season and making for an intriguing finish in Raleigh.
Eric Staal has bounced back with a healthy season and he’s the Hurricanes scoring leader with 66 points so far. Sophomore Jeff Skinner answered a tremendous rookie season with 20 goals in 2011-12, despite missing extended time with both a concussion and suspension (recently served two games for a kicking incident vs. St. Louis).
GM Jim Rutherford identified and locked up two more core players at the trade deadline: signing Tim Gleason to a four-year extension and forward Tuomo Ruutu to a new five-year pact, opting against trading the then-pending unrestricted free agents to acquire future assets.
| || || |
|Nash (25) ||Staal (23) |
|Prospal (33) ||Staal (43) |
|Nash (48) ||Staal (66) |
|Dorsett (196) ||Allen (68) |
|MacKenzie (+4) ||Gleason (+9) |
|Mason (13-24-3) |
|Ward (27-21-12) |
|Sanford (2.60) ||Ward (2.75) |
|Sanford (.911) ||Ward (.914) || |
|• The Blue Jackets have gone 10-11-1 the last 22 games after posting a 4-15-2 mark the previous 21 outings. Tonight’s game is the second of a three-game homestand for Columbus, which hosts Edmonton on Sunday. |
• Nikita Nikitin has goals in four of the last 15 games after scoring his fifth of the season Mar. 18 at Calgary. The goals come after he went the previous 20 games without a goal. He has 3-6-9 the last 18 games after being held to 0-1-1 the previous seven games. He has set career highs in goals (5), assists (18), points (23) and games played (52).
• Tonight marks the lone meeting this season between the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes. Columbus is 6-6-0 all-time against Carolina, including a 3-2-0 mark at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets have won four-straight meetings between the clubs, including the last meeting in Columbus 3-2 on Nov. 7, 2009.
• Brett Lebda has points in three of the last six games after notching an assist Mar. 18 at Calgary. He has 0-3-3 the last six games after being held point the previous 13 games and held without an assist the previous 17 games.