With the Hurricanes off until Thursday, it’s time for that pesky games-in-hand situation to sort itself out.
By the time the Canes and Rangers hit the ice three days from now, the other teams in the Eastern Conference playoff race will be on relatively even footing in terms of games played. Buffalo, Montreal and Philadelphia will still have played one fewer game than Carolina, while Florida, Pittsburgh and the Rangers will also have just five games left.
While the Hurricanes haven’t been getting too far ahead of themselves as their busy schedule has played a part in their surge up the standings, their winning ways have put them in a position where this week isn’t as dangerous as they may have originally thought.
Besides Carolina, every team from Philadelphia (fourth place) all the way to Buffalo (10th) will play one game between now and Thursday. If Carolina’s worst-case scenario were to occur and each team won that game (a possibility since there are no head-to-head match-ups), the Canes would find themselves in sixth place. Only Pittsburgh would have jumped ahead.
Where it could get dangerous is that, within that scenario, Carolina would only be four points ahead of ninth-place Florida, with a suddenly small margin for error. Although the inconsistencies of teams nearer to the cutoff line make that somewhat unlikely, it’s still a possibility that the Hurricanes need to be prepared for.
The good news is that they seem to be just that. The team is both saying all the right things off the ice and doing all the right things on it to keep the pace. The rally in New Jersey on Saturday looked a lot more like a still-desperate team not resting on its laurels than a team coasting towards a likely playoff spot. From someone who is around the team quite a bit, I can honestly say that they may actually be more focused than they were a month ago, not less.
Now, it’s time to rest up for the final five, three of which are home games against fellow playoff-chasers the New York Rangers (Thursday), Pittsburgh (Saturday) and Buffalo (next Thursday, the 9th). Until then, happy scoreboard watching.