As the Canes return home to face the Montreal Canadiens, they do so with renewed hopes in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
By way of their 3-2 shootout win in Washington and Buffalo’s regulation loss in Toronto Tuesday, the Hurricanes now trail the Sabres by three points with six games remaining. Should the Canes get another victory tonight, they could potentially close the gap to just one point if Buffalo simultaneously falters against the New York Rangers.
Such a scenario would put Carolina’s destiny back in its own hands, as it would still have to play well down the stretch but would no longer need help from around the league to qualify for the postseason, as a head-to-head win over the Sabres on Sunday could then put the Canes in playoff position.
There’s still some work to be done before that can happen, but the Canes are certainly closer now than they were yesterday.
”I think we’ve played very well here for probably two weeks, and it was good to get that feeling and a win,” said coach Paul Maurice.
The Canes’ first hurdle will be against a Montreal team that emphatically broke a 199-minute, three-game goal drought with two tallies in 11 seconds in an eventual 3-1 win against Atlanta on Tuesday. The fact that both teams will be playing for the second consecutive night should give the Canes some hope that they can improve upon their 6-11-1 record in the second half of back-to-back games.
“We haven’t had a lot of success in our last group of back-to-back nights,” said Maurice. “We felt the game against Tampa (a 3-2 loss on Saturday) was a close game, a fair game and that the energy was even. Montreal played last night, so we feel that at least it’s even.”
Conversely, the Hurricanes have an outstanding 12-3-4 record in the first half of consecutive games. As one may expect, Montreal is also better on the first halves, but their split isn’t quite as drastic (10-5-1 in the first, 6-6-3 in the second).
Tonight’s game matches up two power plays that appear to be heading in different directions. On the heels of a 4-for-75 (5.3 percent) stretch on the man advantage lasting from Feb 10 to March 22, the Canes have scored 4 goals in their last three games, converting at 28.6 percent in that span.
“I think our puck movement is the key right now,” said Maurice, whose team took a 1-0 lead on Jussi Jokinen’s power-play tally, his first goal in 13 games, at Washington. “We’ve moved the puck better at five-on-five, and we’re doing it five-on-four as well.”
Meanwhile, Montreal has scored just twice in its last 34 opportunities, having converted at just 5.9 percent since March 10.
Having just avoided a six-game season sweep at the hands of Washington, the Hurricanes will again try to dodge historical infamy against Montreal. The franchise has not gone winless against the Canadiens since the 1983-84 season, when Hartford went 0-7-1 against its Adams Division opponents.
Maurice said that the Hurricanes will have no lineup changes for tonight’s game, with Troy Bodie and Jay Harrison as the scratches. The Canes did not skate on Tuesday morning.