With a 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, the Carolina Hurricanes moved within striking distance of clinching a berth in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Just two games remain in the regular season, and if the puck bounces the Hurricanes' way on Thursday, they could punch their ticket to the postseason and bring an end to the NHL's longest active playoff drought (nine seasons).
"We're just looking forward," Petr Mrazek said. "It's going to be a battle, and we're ready for it."
"I really want it this year. Hopefully we'll continue to work in these last couple, finish off, get back in the dance and try to do as much damage as we can," Jordan Staal said. "It's been a long road. I want to continue to play well for this team and find a way to get it done."
The Chance to Clinch
The Hurricanes are back in the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with 95 points and two games remaining. The Columbus Blue Jackets fell to Boston on Tuesday and slid back into the second wild card spot with 94 points and two games remaining. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday but still find themselves just on the outside of the cut line with 94 points and two games remaining.
Three teams vying for two spots separated by a single point.
Here's the best news, though: The Hurricanes can clinch a playoff berth as early as Thursday, April 4.
It starts with a Canes win over the New Jersey Devils. Montreal also has to lose to the Washington Capitals, who are still looking to lock up first place in the Metropolitan Division, in some fashion.
The Hurricanes can clinch a playoff berth on Thursday with …
- CAR regulation or overtime win AND MTL regulation, overtime or shootout loss
- CAR shootout win AND MTL regulation loss
If the Canadiens win in any fashion, the Canes won't yet clinch, regardless of their result.
Additionally, if the Canes earn a single point in an overtime or shootout loss, they also won't yet clinch, regardless of the outcome of the Montreal-Washington match-up.
When assessing clinching scenarios, it's important to consider tiebreakers. The first is the ROW column, which tallies regulation and overtime wins and currently favors the Canes over the Canadiens, 42-41. Should the two teams end the season tied in ROW, the tiebreaker moves to the head-to-head match-up, and things get even weirder. Since the two teams played an uneven number of home games against each other (two in Montreal, one in Raleigh), the first meeting in Montreal, a 2-1 win for the Canes, is disregarded. The Canadiens would then win the tiebreaker by virtue of three points earned (1-0-1) to the Canes' two (1-1-0).
The bottom line: Just win, baby.
Hurricanes' Playoff Chances
The Hurricanes' postseason chances leapt up after a victory in Toronto on Tuesday night.
If the Season Ended Today
If the regular season ended today, here's how playoff match-ups would shake out in the Eastern Conference.
- Washington (1) vs. Carolina (WC1)
- NY Islanders (2) vs. Pittsburgh (3)
- Tampa Bay (1) vs. Columbus (WC2)
- Boston (2) vs. Toronto (3)
The playoff race in the Metropolitan Division is so very tight. It's still possible, though chances are very slim (2.6 percent, per Money Puck), that the Hurricanes could still finish second in the division and own home ice in the first round. More likely is claiming the third seed in the division (20.4 percent, per Money Puck) or the second wild card seed (24.7 percent, per Money Puck). Most likely at the moment is remaining in the top wild card spot (39.7 percent, per Money Puck).
These numbers change with every game, though, and movement in the standings is still very possible, even with only two games left in the regular season.
The most important fact, though, is that the Canes can clinch a playoff spot on Thursday at home in front of what should be a packed and rocking building. Take warning.