Paul Maurice audio
This sure beats the drama of having to wait until the last game of the season, doesn’t it?
Thanks to eight straight victories and a 12-1-2 record since March 3, the Canes are back in the playoffs with a week to spare. Prior to that run, it had always been quietly assumed that Carolina’s postseason fate would be decided in the final days, but apparently the team had enough of that in 2008.
“After what we went through last year, it’s just nice to have it locked up now,” said Eric Staal
So what to do with the well-earned week where, for the first time in months, every game and every point suddenly aren’t quite as crucial as they once were?
“You treat it exactly the same,” said Staal. “We’ve got a chance to get home ice, and we know from 2006 how important that is. It’s a big week for us, and we’re going into every game to win and get ready for the playoffs.”
There’s a very real chance the Canes can climb up to fourth place and play their first two playoff games at the RBC Center, but they would need a little help. Even if they win all three of their remaining games, they would need Philadelphia to lose one of their remaining four contests. In that scenario, the teams would be tied on points but Carolina would have the total wins tiebreaker.
Given the way the team is playing at in their own building, home ice should be something to strive for at this point, even if Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, who the Canes would be likely to play in that scenario, would represent two of the tougher potential match-ups.
“We’re trying to win as many games as we possibly can and stay on our roll,” said Coach Paul Maurice. “We want to do everything that we can to climb as high as we possibly can. Clearly we would like to have home ice advantage, but if that doesn’t happen we’re still charged with the same task to win in the first round.”
The Canes can also afford to keep being cautious with injuries, although in the case of Matt Cullen, who did not practice again today, the Canes would like him to suit up in the regular season rather than go in cold for the first game of the playoffs, if possible. Maurice is targeting the final game against New Jersey on Saturday for that to happen.
“His conditioning is not an issue and he has no fear of that,” said Maurice. “He really feels that once he gets out onto the ice he’s going to be fine to play.”
Joe Corvo and Tuomo Ruutu also did not practice today. Michael Ryan took Ruutu’s place on the top line, while Tim Conboy dropped back to defense.