The Carolina Hurricanes are unfortunately in for another long summer.
This time around, however, they still have four remaining games to set the mood heading into the off-season.
“We knew for awhile we were chasing our tails,” Patrick Dwyer
said. “There was always a chance, but now that we’re out, we have to regroup and play these next four games like there is something at the end of the road.”
Head coach Kirk Muller said it would be a mental battle for the group of 22 in the locker room who, also physically, have to prepare for the second half of a back-to-back set where there are no tangible results in sight.
“At the end of the day when [going to the playoffs] doesn’t happen, it is deflating, and it’s tough mentally, but the way they get through it is continue to be a professional,” Muller said. “You really need to push each other to finish strong.”
So that’s what the team plans on doing.
Don’t expect to see big lineup changes, drastic line shuffling or altering of roles. Don’t expect these games to be last-ditch tryouts for some players, as Muller said his staff already has a “pretty good judge of everything." And don’t expect to see the team back off of the level they’ve sustained in the past few months.
“I just said to the guys, ‘We’ve made some really good strides, and I think there’s a lot of positive things,’” Muller said. “’Let’s finish on a good note. Too many good things have happened. We’re in the right direction.’”
Though missing the playoffs is never the goal of any team in any sports league, learning their fate with a week remaining in the regular season gives the Canes control over the tone of their summer. Last season, they were not afforded that luxury, as they saw their playoff hopes slip out of their grasp in the ill-fated final game.
“Last year, going into that final game with our fate in our hands and to come out of that game the way we did, it was very disappointing for us,” Dwyer said. “Either way you take it, missing the playoffs is never a fun experience.
“Ending on a good note is always a better thing than sitting with a sour taste in your mouth throughout the summer. It’s going to be a long summer, there’s no doubt about that. So the higher note we can go out on, the better.”
If nothing else, the Canes are building toward a promising campaign come October.
“There is that excitement of when we do buy into the systems and bring that energy, we can beat anyone,” Dwyer said. “It’s important to finish these games up strong for confidence going into next year.”
“I’m a positive guy in nature. I see all the good things. We deal with everything day-to-day, and are we a better team than we were yesterday?” Muller said. “And also, as a coach, you look a little bit more at the big picture and what’s in store for next year. It’s tough, but we’re excited about a lot of stuff.”
Two of the team’s remaining four games will be in the friendly confines of PNC Arena, which gives the team yet another reason not to lethargically trudge into the off-season.
“Last year, the disappointing loss, the fans were upset going through the summer,” Dwyer said. “So we’ll come out and give them two good games before the summer break and build that excitement around the community and around the area. They’ve always supported us, so it’d be nice to go out and show them two good games.”Brian Boucher
will be between the pipes tonight, just his second start since returning from an early December injury. In his most recent start, he made 23 saves on 26 shots in Minnesota in a 5-3 win. It was his first win as a Hurricane.
“You’ve got to play for a guy like that,” Muller said. “There’s always something you’ve got to play for.
“The easy thing to do is play at 80 percent right now. What we want to see is guys play right to the end.”