For the Carolina Hurricanes and the other 29 teams in the NHL, February was a light month of hockey in terms of the NHL schedule.
Wedged in between NHL action was the spectacle of the Winter Olympics, and one of the four Canes players representing in Sochi brought hardware back to North America.
In total, the Canes posted just a 1-4-0 record in the month of February, and while the team sits still just five points out of a playoff spot, time is of the essence as the schedule advances at a frenzied pace to the finish line.
“It’s crucial,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “We’re looking at somewhere around 94 points … to get into the playoffs. In saying that, you can just do the math.”
Before and After the Olympics
|DATE ||OPPONENT ||RESULT |
|FEB. 4 ||vs. WINNIPEG ||2-1 L |
|FEB. 7 ||vs. FLORIDA ||5-1 W |
|FEB. 8 ||vs. MONTREAL ||4-1 L |
|FEB. 25 ||at BUFFALO ||3-2 L |
|FEB. 27 ||at DALLAS ||4-1 L |
Prior to the Olympic break, the Canes wrapped up a four-game homestand, hosting Winnipeg, Florida and Montreal. They posted a 1-2-0 record in that stretch, drumming Florida 5-1 but falling to former head coach Paul Maurice and the Jets and Montreal.
“Obviously we wanted to come in here and get those two points before we left. It’s a tight race as it is,” said U.S. Olympian Justin Faulk after the 4-1 loss to Montreal on Feb. 8. “I don’t think we had the effort or the drive that we needed to get the two points tonight. In a game like that, especially before the break, we needed to leave it all out there. But it didn’t go our way, and we didn’t get it done.”
Following the Olympic break, the Canes returned to action with two games on the road, the first of which was a rescheduled match in Buffalo, which they lost 3-2. The ice didn’t tilt in their favor in Dallas, either, as they fell 4-1.
In five total games in February, the Canes top line of Eric Staal, Jiri Tlusty and Alexander Semin – who left the game in Dallas with a lower-body injury – combined for five goals and two assists (7 points) and a plus-10 rating.
The Hurricanes sent four Olympians to Sochi, just as they did for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Unlike those games when all four returned with medals, however, just one Hurricanes player returned from the 2014 Winter Olympics with a medal: Tuomo Ruutu, whose Finnish national team defeated Faulk and the United States 5-0 to capture the bronze medal.
In six tournament games, Ruutu posted five points (1g, 4a), ranking tied for second among all skaters with a plus-6 rating and tied for third in assists (4). Ruutu has now medaled in each of the 11 major international tournaments in which he’s competed.
“You shoot for the gold, but I thought we had a pretty good finish at the end,” Ruutu said. “To succeed, you have to be a really good team, and I think it’s always been our strength. I thought it was our strength in this tournament as well.”
Plenty more on Ruutu can be found in our Olympic profile of the 31-year-old forward. CarolinaHurricanes.com also caught up with him after he returned from Sochi, and he speaks at length about the unrivaled experience of the Olympics.
“Best of all, it was just great to play with the guys, and you feel like you’re really united,” he said. “They do anything they can for you, and you try to do that for them as well. That’s a special thing and probably the greatest feeling in the sport.”
Just after the conclusion of the Olympic break, Canes President and General Manager Jim Rutherford had this to say about the temperature of trade talks: “Usually there are more deals as you get closer to the deadline,” he said. “The group of teams that we sit with and are fighting with, we have as good a chance [to make the playoffs] as any of them. I’m going to keep an open mind to anything that comes our way.”
At the time, Rutherford said the Canes were neither buyers nor sellers.
“We have to do what we can to get a playoff spot. We’re a good enough team to do that and a good enough team to do well in the playoffs,” he said. “But we also have to keep in mind the number of young players we have – the key, young players – and continue to build. It just depends what comes our way.”
That said, this five-game road trip was going to play into the Canes’ deadline position one way or another as the 3 p.m. marker on March 5 moved ever closer. Thus far, Carolina has dropped two straight games.
“Every week is crucial now. You have a good week and you jump up in the standings. You have a bad week and you fall back. I don’t want to say that this is a make or break week because it’s so tight, but it’s important that we play well and get points,” Rutherford said. “This next week is an important week, and everybody will have a better idea where teams sit.”
Keep it locked on CarolinaHurricanes.com as the deadline draws near. We’ll pass along news as it breaks, and we’ll have live, running coverage available on Wednesday, March 5 leading up to the 3 p.m. deadline.
A Frantic March
March marks the Hurricanes’ busiest month of the season, as they will play a total of 16 games (10 on the road and six at home) over the course of 31 days.
The month begins with three games in California – Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose – to wrap up a season-long, five-game road trip.
“When you look at it, five-game segments are pretty important any way you look at it – first five, last five, somewhere in the middle,” defenseman Jay Harrison said. “No doubt, it’s a crucial part of the season not unlike any other.”
The Canes’ final 23 games of the season will be played over the next 44 days, a frantic pace to wrap up the 2013-14 campaign.
“We’re going to need more than six D, more than 12 forwards and more than one goalie if we’re going to make a run at it, especially through March,” Muller said.
“We know we’ve got a lot of hockey,” goaltender Cam Ward said. “It’s going to be important to get our rest when we need it and put it all out there.”
|LEADING SCORERS |
|FEBRUARY || || || || ||OVERALL |
|PLAYER ||GP ||G ||A ||PTS ||+/- || || || || ||PLAYER ||GP ||G ||A ||PTS ||+/- |
|ERIC STAAL ||5 ||2 ||1 ||3 ||4 || || || || ||ERIC STAAL ||56 ||16 ||31 ||47 ||-5 |
|RILEY NASH ||5 ||2 ||1 ||3 ||0 || || || || ||JEFF SKINNER ||48 ||23 ||17 ||40 ||-10 |
|ANDREJ SEKERA ||5 ||1 ||2 ||3 ||-3 || || || || ||ANDREJ SEKERA ||57 ||9 ||25 ||34 ||3 |
|ALEXANDER SEMIN ||5 ||2 ||0 ||2 ||3 || || || || ||ALEXANDER SEMIN ||47 ||15 ||15 ||30 ||9 |
|JIRI TLUSTY ||5 ||1 ||1 ||2 ||3 || || || || ||JORDAN STAAL ||59 ||11 ||16 ||27 ||-3 |
1-4-0, 2 pointsOverall record:
26-24-9, 61 points, 7th in Metropolitan Division (For full standings, click here