Forget just making the playoffs. These Canes have been playing like home ice advantage in the first round, which they would have if the season ended today, was their goal all along.
With the way they’re going, it’s hard to argue that they don’t deserve it. I don’t think I need to remind anyone how good the 2005-06 Stanley Cup team was at home (OK, fine, they were 31-8-2), but even they never won 10 in a row in the friendly confines of the RBC Center.
Now, whether the Canes will retain hold of the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference isn’t a sure thing by any means, as Philadelphia is only one point back with two games in hand, and Pittsburgh is in that mix as well. Although that’s still an uphill battle, given how far away it looked just a short month ago, even being in that neighborhood has to be considered an unbelievable accomplishment.
“I didn’t really expect we’d be talking about it at this time of year,” said Tuomo Ruutu. “It’s so tight right now and teams are playing each other and having bad times and good times. Right now we’re having a good time, and you never know what could happen.”
There’s still a more important task at hand, and that’s the not-so-small matter of actually wrapping up a playoff spot of any kind. That accomplishment is getting closer and closer by the day.
A win tomorrow night against the Penguins, coupled with regulation losses by either Florida (tonight vs. Atlanta) or the Rangers (tomorrow afternoon vs. Boston) would mathematically seal the deal. In that scenario, the Canes would have 95 points and a total wins tiebreaker over the Panthers, Rangers and/or Sabres, making it impossible for any of those teams to catch up.
Matt Cullen remained off the ice today – at this point, no rush whatsoever. After leaving last night’s game with an upper-body injury during the second period, Patrick Eaves was back for the full session.
After his 25th consecutive start, Cam Ward got the day off today. Television Color Analyst Tripp Tracy again filled in opposite Michael Leighton, with Eric Staal in particular not making things very easy on the volunteer netminder.