Each Friday throughout the season Kevin Weekes will bring you his Friday Four. He will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, or trends that have caught his eye.
If anyone could spend an entire day with Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour to see his minute-by-minute preparation and commitment to excellence, they would see how unselfish he is and how he would do anything for his players and the fans and people of North Carolina.
The two Hurricanes teams which went to the Stanley Cup Final (2002, 2006) did so with grit, tenacity, a high work ethic, teamwork, and with Brind'Amour leading the way on the ice. Those are all traits we have seen in this year's group, as well, except with Brind'Amour now behind the bench, as Carolina tries to get back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Video: Williams, Hurricanes stave off Panthers, 4-3
Following a 4-3 win against the Florida Panthers on Thursday, the Hurricanes (32-23-6) have won seven of nine and are 17-6-1 in their past 24 games and hold the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. Forwards Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen have been great all year, and captain Justin Williams has added plenty of veteran leadership. And Curtis McElhinney and Petr Mrazek have formed a terrific goalie tandem. They are a team that should be taken seriously.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues' 11-game winning streak (in which they allowed a total of 16 goals) ended with a 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Thursday but they are still a virtual lock for the playoffs. St. Louis is third in the Central Division, seven points behind the second-place Winnipeg Jets and eight points behind the first-place Nashville Predators, with three games in hand. The Blues (32-23-5) are seven points ahead of the Minnesota Wild, who have the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.
Ryan O'Reilly has been their best player all season and hasn't had any dry spells. He leads them in scoring with 63 points (24 goals, 39 assists).
Vladimir Tarasenko went from a shell of his former self to one of the best players in the League with a recent 12-game point streak and has nine goals in his past eight games, and 15 in his past 18. He now has 27 this season. This is a guy who's scored at least 33 goals in each of his past four seasons and who is clearly back on that track.
And then there's rookie sensation Jordan Binnington. The 25-year-old goalie 13-2-1 this season and recently won nine straight starts and is a big reason for their turnaround. He should get some Calder Trophy consideration.
The Wild are a good team that's underperforming. Sometimes there has been too much panic in their game when they fall behind. They have the second wild card in the West, but five teams are within five points of them. They've already dealt forward Charlie Coyle, but will they be sellers at the Trade Deadline?
Video: A more in-depth look at the Charlie Coyle trade
Forward Ryan Donato, who was acquired from the Boston Bruins for Coyle on Wednesday, had two assists in his Minnesota debut, a 4-1 win against the New York Rangers on Thursday. The Wild had lost five straight and nine of 10. After playing the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, FS-D, FS-WI, FS-N+, NHL.TV), the Wild have a difficult stretch with six straight games against teams currently in playoff spots, including four on the road. That will not be easy.
Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Ryan Suter are doing all they can offensively, but need help, especially without high-scoring injured defenseman Matt Dumba. Eric Staal doesn't have a goal in 11 games and has 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists) this season. Remember, the veteran forward had 42 goals and 76 points last season and 65 points two seasons ago.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Following a 2-1 shootout victory against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, the Lightning have won eight straight and are 10-0-2 in their past 12 games. They are deep at every position and Nikita Kucherov, a Hart Trophy candidate, scored his 30th goal Thursday to become the first player in the NHL with 100 points this season.
We all know how great a goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is, but we can't forget how well backup Louis Domingue has played. He's 19-4-0 this season and was outstanding when Vasilevskiy was hurt as well as when he's just given a night off. Having two goalies like that is a major advantage.
It's also a scary thought that their American Hockey League team in Syracuse is 31-16-2-2 and has some great prospects. Guys like Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat got their start there, and the next big Lightning prospect could be there right now making an impact.
I have to give a shout out to two goalies: Ryan Miller and Cory Schneider. Miller of the Anaheim Ducks became the all-time United-States born leader in wins with his 375th last weekend and followed that up with a shutout in his next start. Schneider is finally healthy again for the New Jersey Devils and got his first regular-season win since Dec. 27, 2017 last week and has won his past three decisions stopping 79 of 80 shots, including 30 in a 4-0 shutout against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.
Video: ANA@MIN: Miller makes 31 saves in shutout victory
The Bruins are 9-0-3 in their past 12 games and have received great goaltending from Tuukka Rask, 12-0-2 in his past 14 decisions, and Jaroslav Halak. Even with the injury to David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron continue to play well. It will be interesting to see where Coyle slots into the lineup.
Lastly, what happens with pending unrestricted free agents prior to the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Monday at 3 p.m. ET, especially with the Western Conference standings changing every night? There are plenty of teams that are still in the race or close, meaning there could be plenty of buyers as opposed to sellers.