If there were any questions about how the Hurricanes would respond after accomplishing their long-held goal of qualifying for the playoffs, they were answered last night.
Even Coach Paul Maurice said he wasn’t sure how his team would come out in what had the makings of a classic “trap game.” Nine goals and a few franchise records later, here we are.
“I was very pleased with the way we skated early in the game,” Maurice said this morning. “We talked about two or three things that we wanted to be good at, and we were good at those things.”
We’ve said it before, but one of the most impressive things about this team is how they’ve kept their focus throughout their recent winning ways. There’s no question that they’re loose and having fun, but it’s become clear that making the playoffs isn’t enough for this group. They’re playing to do something special in the coming months, and at this rate, who’s to say they can’t?
For now, there are still shorter-term goals, including home-ice advantage in the first round. It’s looking more and more like the Canes will start off against the Philadelphia Flyers in a 4/5 match-up. By definition, those series are always intense, back-and-forth affairs, and having more games in your own building could provide a crucial edge. The Canes are now 26-13-1 at home (and riding a franchise-record 12-game winning streak), while the Flyers are 24-12-4 in Philly.
The Flyers, who still have a game in hand on the Canes with even points in the standings, beat Florida 2-1 last night. Even if Carolina won its remaining two games against Buffalo and New Jersey, they would still need the Flyers to drop two points in their games against the Rangers (twice) and Islanders. After last night’s game in Raleigh, I’m not overly optimistic about that happening against the Islanders, but the Rangers are still fighting for their playoff lives and will be a tough challenge.
Even though Maurice said the Canes want to get to the fourth seed, he doesn’t see it as a make-or-break for team’s chances of advancing past the first round.
“I don’t think that this hockey team should feel any pressure based on standings,” said Maurice. “We would like to finish fourth because we can, but at the same time and as much as we should enjoy playing at home, I’m not as concerned about home-ice advantage as it’s made out to be. There are times in the first round with the first sets of home game, the pressure is so much on the home team.”
Most of the team got the day off today, with only a handful of mostly lower-minute players taking the RBC Center ice. Notable exceptions were Joe Corvo, who is battling the flu and did not play last night, and Erik Cole.
Cam Ward also did not practice, as Maurice said the Canes’ new record holder for single-season wins will make his 28th consecutive start tomorrow night against Buffalo. A decision will be made later in the week as to which goaltender will start in the regular season finale Saturday in New Jersey.