It's getting late early for the Carolina Hurricanes and their playoff hopes, but don’t close the door on them just yet.
An emotional win over the New York Rangers on Thursday night (in Eric Staal’s return to Raleigh) gave them 84 points, five points back of the Philadelphia Flyers, who control the East’s second wild card position entering the final week of the regular season.
Not helping Carolina’s cause is having only four games remaining, and the closing stretch begins Saturday night – their final meeting of the season with the Blue Jackets at PNC Arena.
The Hurricanes will split their remaining schedule with two at home and two on the road, and thinking mathematically here, their only hope at pulling off a postseason miracle is to win all four and then get some help from the teams ahead of them.
While that doesn’t appear likely, Carolina is showing signs of improvement under coach Bill Peters and they’ve been a formidable opponent all season long. They have a strong crop of young forwards, a very young and talented defense and a quality goaltending tandem in Cam Ward and Eddie Lack.
It was just over a week ago, actually.
The Blue Jackets and Hurricanes met on Mar. 24 at Nationwide Arena in one of the weirder games each has played of late. In a scoreless deadlock for much of the first 40 minutes, Matt Calvert broke the ice on a goal that stood up after a Carolina coach's challenge at 17:35 of the second period.
Entering the third period with a lead was a decent position for the Blue Jackets to be in, but the Hurricanes started the third period on a tear. They scored three goals in a span of 79 seconds to take a 3-1 lead, and despite a Boone Jenner goal at the 4:03 mark, Carolina held on for its third win in three tries against the Blue Jackets this season.
Victor Rask is enjoying a fine season for the Hurricanes, and the young Swede is developing into a key offensive cog. He scored the game-winning goal on the power play against the Rangers on Thursday, good for his 21st goal of the season (easily a new career high) and also his 46th point, which is also a new career best mark.
He also tallied the game-deciding goal on Easter Sunday against New Jersey.
Still only 23 years old, the Hurricanes believe Rask, their second round pick (No. 42 overall) in 2011 is going to continue to improve and develop more confidence offensively.