As much as Sunday’s overtime loss to Buffalo was a setback in the Hurricanes’ playoff chase, they suffered an equally gut-wrenching twist of fate from the comfort of their own homes the following day.
With the Boston Bruins jumping out to a 3-0 lead on the New York Rangers, it looked as though the Canes would regain control of their own destiny. Had that result held, the Canes, who held important tiebreakers, would have been guaranteed of a playoff spot by winning each of their last three games in regulation. They would have received the help they needed.
As it turned out, the Rangers scored twice to tie the game and then take the lead with under four minutes left. They added an empty netter, capping a run of five unanswered goals.
“At 3-0 you feel pretty good, but then it’s like a horror movie that goes on and on,” said Jussi Jokinen.
“We’ve talked about this rollercoaster, but now it’s even worse when you’re watching other teams,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. “At 3-0 you’re thinking, ‘Well, we’re back in the fight and we can be in eighth in 24 hours,’ and then you watch that. That was a little frustrating.”
While the Canes will still need assistance in the regular season’s final week, not much will have changed in regards to the task at hand. Mathematically, they could drop a game and still sneak in to the postseason depending on what happens to the teams above them. Practically, they’ll need a perfect finish to give themselves a real chance.
“We still have to concentrate on our game,” said Jokinen. “You can’t think too far ahead or on things you can’t control, because we still have to win all three.”
Their first test will be against a Detroit Red Wings team that has clinched home-ice advantage in the Western Conference but could still pass the San Jose Sharks to move as high as the No. 2 seed. The Wings, 46-23-10 on the season, have just three wins in their last eight contests, although two of those have come in their last two games on the heels of a 10-3 loss to St. Louis.
“They’re not invincible. We’ve seen that,” said Maurice. “They’re a very, very good hockey team, but we have more on the line and that has to be our advantage.
“It’s just a matter of inches in this game, and if you’re not right on and the other team is, you’re going to have a hard time beating them regardless of where you sit in the standings.”
As has been the case for many of the Hurricanes’ recent efforts, win or loss, they remain reasonably pleased with their overall game.
“We had five really good chances to score in that third period (against Buffalo), and I’m glad we weren’t playing sitting back,” said Maurice. “That’s the attitude that will make us successful and give us the best chance to be successful. We’ve got to go and be aggressive and play with no fear and all excitement.”
Continuing a consistent development down the stretch, Eric Staal did not take part in the on-ice session of Monday’s practice but will play against Detroit. Staal played 24:42 against Buffalo, including a game-high 6:59 on the power play, and ranks third in the NHL in total ice time (1,719 minutes) and ice time per game (22:02) among forwards behind Ilya Kovalchuk and Corey Perry. No other Hurricanes forward cracks the top 70 in minutes per game, with Erik Cole checking in at No. 74 (18:28).
For the moment, it remains unclear as to whether the team will have any lineup changes for the Detroit game, particularly on defense, where Jay Harrison continues to nurse the upper-body injury that has kept him out of the last four games but could likely play if needed.
“We’re still dealing daily with nicks, and it gets to the point of who’s the least nicked up, and if you put him in what position does he play,” said Maurice. “There’s a lot of factors where you have to give it one more day, let’s see how the groin or whatever the injury is a guy is dealing with, see how they come back and then we’ll make a decision.”