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Hurricanes still control division destiny

by Dan Rosen

The Carolina Hurricanes still control their own destiny by winning their final two games of the season. Watch Hurricanes-Capitals video
WASHINGTON – Since it was only a game, it was only one loss, too.

That's how the Carolina Hurricanes approached Tuesday night's huge contest at the Verizon Center against the Washington Capitals, and that's how they felt after losing to the upstart NHL darlings, 4-1, in front of an electric capacity crowd.

They can feel this way because no matter how you swing it, the Hurricanes are still in control of their own fate. Win tonight against Tampa Bay and again against Florida on Friday, and they win the Southeast Division outright.

It won't matter what the Capitals do in their final two games.

"You know, we were a .500 club 28 games ago and unless we made a serious move … we kind of charted it out that we probably need 20 wins in our last 30 games in order to make the playoffs and that's going to hold true," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette told "We said we need 20 wins. We're at 18 and we need four points."

The Capitals' stunning victory Tuesday in front of their own raucous crowd vaulted them into a first-place tie with Carolina for the Southeast Division title. If Carolina had won, it would have clinched the division.

But as exciting as it was for Washington, the moment can be fleeting, too. The Hurricanes can put the pressure back on Washington tonight. All they need to do is beat the last-place Lightning and they take over first-place again with 92 points as opposed to idle Washington's 90. The Capitals host the Lightning Thursday night.

So, even though the Hurricanes were disappointed after Tuesday's game, in which they gave the Caps' eight power plays leading to a pair of goals, they're not overly concerned about their precarious playoff position right now.

"You know, that's the only way you can look at it," Carolina winger Ray Whitney told "They haven't won anything yet. We're in control of everything. Obviously we have to win two, unless they lose one, but we're not panicked by any means. Of course we would have liked to take care of it (Tuesday), but we're not panicking at all."

Although there was plenty of talk Tuesday night in the celebratory dressing room of how the Caps beat up Carolina physically making tonight's game a chore for the Hurricanes, there was no mention of such a thing in the solemn losing locker room.

The Hurricanes, in fact, feel as though the best thing for them after Tuesday's loss is to get right back at it tonight. Back-to-back games can be draining, and yes there is reason to believe with a 29-21 advantage in hits the Capitals did slug the 'Canes pretty good, but Carolina isn't complaining about the quick turnaround.

"That's probably the best thing that could happen to us instead of stewing over something like this for a couple of days," Hurricanes veteran defenseman Glen Wesley said. "We have a chance to redeem ourselves (tonight)."

Whitney said the key could be the venue. The Hurricanes return home for their final two games, and they are 23-12-4 at the RBC Center this season, including a 13-2-2 mark since the All-Star break.

"At this time of the year you don't stew over losses because you don't have time to," Whitney said. "We know we have to win the last two and we're at home, where we have played very well. We'll come out with everything we have (tonight)."

Although Whitney downplayed the notion, expect the Hurricanes to play tonight's game with at least a twinge of revenge on their minds. It was only a few nights ago when they blasted 18 more shots at the net than Tampa Bay but still fell, 2-1, at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"Yeah, I guess you go back and look at the Tampa Bay game, when you outshoot a team 39-20 or whatever it was and get held to one goal?" Wesley said of what is most frustrating right now. "But, we can't dwell on the past. We have to prepare ourselves for (tonight). Its' the old cliché, every game gets bigger for us."

"We're not sitting there and saying we owe these guys," Whitney added. "We owe it to ourselves to go out there and get some wins."

All it takes is two and the Hurricanes can breathe a sigh of relief. Of course, all they have left to get is two as well. Life would have been a heck of a lot easier with a win Tuesday night, but it didn't happen and that's OK. It was, after all, only one loss in only one game.

"As far as I'm concerned we just need to move on," 'Canes winger Erik Cole said. "We have a game (tonight). We have two games left in the season. We need to play well. We need to win them both."

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