Last night’s overtime win against Florida has the Canes as close to the playoffs as they’ve been all season, but there’s still work to be done yet.
Carolina is currently six points clear of the ninth-placed Panthers with only seven games remaining on its schedule. While their chances of getting into the postseason skyrocketed over the past week due to their own play and the misfortunes of others, just ask last year’s team about how a seemingly sure thing can disappear just as quickly.
Even for those who weren’t with the team at the conclusion of 2007-08, it’s not time to celebrate quite yet.
“Eighty-seven points doesn’t get you into the playoffs,” said Coach Paul Maurice of his team’s current point total. “We’re in a good position, but a lot of other teams have games in hand on us now, which is a concern. At the same time, I think we’ve almost gotten through one of the roughest parts of our schedule in terms of the number of games. We need the same things to happen – we need to stay healthy and keep playing well.”
As of Tuesday morning, the Hurricanes had played more games than any team in the NHL with 75. That’s not to say that the team’s position in fifth place is entirely misleading, as Carolina would still hold the seventh seed even if every team chasing them won all of their games in hand – an unlikely yet possible scenario that the Canes have no choice but to recognize.
There is one factor the Hurricanes have displayed throughout March that, if they can maintain it, will help them take the final steps necessary to secure their first postseason berth in two years: confidence.
The team has faced some adversity in recent games, namely a two-goal deficit against the Islanders on Friday, an allowed goal to Washington in the final minute of the second period on Saturday that could have been a turning point and the five-on-three power play Florida used to tie last night’s game late in the third.
The common thread in each of those is that the Hurricanes were able to dodge those curveballs and prevail. That self-belief should serve them well as they try to hold off the likes of the New York Rangers, Montreal and Florida down the stretch.
“This team now, because of the fight we’ve been in for what seems like two months with enough ups and downs and surviving, we’ve got confidence in those times of the game,” said Maurice of overcoming those obstacles. “If you have a little bit of success coming back in games, you remember that.”
Their next test will be a strong one, as Ottawa comes to Raleigh tomorrow. Although the odds are heavily against the Senators getting into the postseason, they are doing all they can to change that by going 9-2-0 in their last 11 games. They trail Buffalo, who is fading quickly from the playoff race, by only two points.
“I think they are the hottest team in the league,” said Maurice. “They’ve covered a huge amount of distance in a short period of time, so now they think that they can [make the playoffs]. I don’t believe that anybody ever looked at that team and said they weren’t talented enough to be in the playoffs. Their best players are playing very, very well, and that gives them a chance to win.”