The Hurricanes wouldn’t be officially eliminated from playoff contention if they lost to Detroit tonight, but it would be close.
There are a few different scenarios that have the Hurricanes qualifying for the postseason, but the most simple involves Carolina winning each of its remaining three games in regulation or overtime and the New York Rangers dropping at least one of their remaining two in regulation.
Should the Canes fall short of that against the Red Wings, they would then need the Rangers to lose both of their games against Atlanta and New Jersey in addition to winning their last two against Atlanta and Tampa Bay.
There are yet more way to crunch the numbers, but for now, the Canes won’t be getting too far ahead of themselves.
“We can only win one tonight,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. “You can’t bring the enormity of the importance of these next three games. You could lose tonight, win two and still make the playoffs, but we’re not giving any less because we still have that out. Tonight’s the night for us to be at our best.”
Although the Red Wings hold the superior record as the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed, the Hurricanes’ hope is that they’ll have more to play for. For the Central Divisiion Champion Red Wings, the only thing left at stake is passing the San Jose Sharks for the No. 2 seed. Beyond that, they know they’ll be in the playoffs for the 20th consecutive season, which is the longest current streak among the four major North American sports teams.
“I think if you’re a hockey fan, you’ve seen Detroit play because you’ve watched a lot of playoff hockey and they’ve been there forever,” said Maurice.
“Clearly you have to respect the opponent and what they can do, but we need to be an initiator in this game and we need to start from the drop of the puck with a very defined style that want to play and we have to play it at a very, very high level.”
With the majority of teams playing within their own conference at this late stage in the season, this Hurricanes-Red Wings match-up, the only meeting of the season, is somewhat of an aberration on the schedule. Coming into tonight, the Canes will have played just three games out of a possible 42 in 2011 against the West.
“You do all your prep work, your video and your homework, and when don’t see a team much it’s very strange to hit them at such a critical time for us,” said Maurice.
Both teams have winning records against the opposite conference, with Carolina going 9-6-2 against the West this season – a mark that ranks fourth among Eastern teams. However, the Red Wings are 12-3-2 against the East, which is the best cross-conference record in the NHL.
The Red Wings have enjoyed the upper hand on the Hurricanes in recent years, with Carolina losing the last six meetings in regulation since winning twice in the 2005-06 Stanley Cup season.
The Wings have won just three of their last eight games, but are 2-0-0 since goaltender Jimmy Howard returned from a two-game injury absence. Howard won his only career appearance against Carolina last season, allowing one goal in a 3-1 win.
The Hurricanes do not expect to have any lineup changes for tonight’s game, with Troy Bodie (healthy) and Jay Harrison (upper body) sitting out. For the Wings, defenseman Niklas Kronwall is expected to miss his third consecutive game with an upper-body injury of his own.