While the Western Conference has been the scene of one of the wilder, most logjammed postseason races in NHL history, the East has been shaping up as having a pretty significant dogfight of its own in recent weeks. Carolina is currently holding onto the eighth seed, but an impressive run by Buffalo, which Carolina will play tonight, as well as some inconsistency by the Hurricanes has put that final playoff seed very much in doubt. With the very real possibility that Carolina will be on the outside looking in Friday morning, the Hurricanes would do well not to look past the Sabres on the schedule.
It might only make them more anxious.
A quick glance at the Canes' upcoming slate reveals that Carolina has one of the tougher remaining schedules in the East, particularly in the next two weeks. One night after the Canes' four-pointer with Buffalo Thursday, Carolina will be in Chicago to face a Blackhawks team that is on a six-game winning streak and playing its best hockey of the season. To make matters worse, the Hurricanes may not even have the energy to take the ice for what will be their third game in four days.
After a tumultuous 28 hours or so, Carolina gets to look forward to playing four of its next five games against Washington, a Columbus team that has won 8 of its last 12, Buffalo again and the Maple Leafs, who haven't lost in regulation in nearly three weeks.
Getting through a stretch that brutal will require quite a bit of energy, but expect that to be on short supply, too. Carolina spends its next seven games jack-knifing between home and the road.
One could make the assumption that successfully navigating the next few weeks will make the Hurricanes a battle-tested, tough out come spring -- and that may be so -- but it certainly won't be easy. And if the Canes do make the playoffs, a schedule like this could leave them entirely spent by the time they get there.