Before Saturday’s game against the New Jersey Devils, I offered some thoughts and did rough math for what the Hurricanes would need to do to pull off a minor miracle. The short version is that I think the Hurricanes needed to go 8-2 in their last 10 to have a chance. The team started well with a win in New Jersey leaving only 9 games.
Here is a breakdown of the remaining schedule:
Need to capitalize on home cooking (4 games)
After going 3-0-1 on the road in the last 4 games, the Hurricanes will now play 4 straight at home. If a team takes a game for granted in the NHL, that team almost always pays for it with a loss, but nonetheless the next 4 are reasonably favorable schedule-wise. 3 of the 4 opponents are non-playoff teams. The Hurricanes play back-to-back only against Detroit who will actually be playing 3 in a row.
Monday vs. Detroit: Detroit is playing fairly well but more or less done for 2016-17. In addition, the Red Wings played and traveled on Sunday while the Hurricanes had a day to recharge at home. Hopefully the Hurricanes ride momentum and pair it with a physical advantage.
Tuesday vs. Detroit: The game will be 3 in 3 days for the Red Wings which is something that the regular NHL schedule does not allow (remember this situation is a result of the cancellation earlier in the season). Ideal would be for Detroit to just be completely gassed such that the Hurricanes can skate past them.
Thursday vs. Columbus: The Hurricanes did beat Columbus in early January, but I think the game was an anomaly as evidenced by 2 Blue Jackets wins over the Hurricanes after that. On paper this is the toughest of the 4 games, and Columbus who is still playing for some combination of catching the Capitals to have home ice in the Eastern Conference playoffs and/or a chance to at least beat out Pittsburgh for second place in the Metropolitan Division and earn home ice in the 2 teams’ first round playoff match up.
Saturday vs. Dallas: This has the looks of another trap game. With a quick turnaround against the Penguins on Sunday, the Hurricanes better make sure they first stay heads down and do the necessary work on Saturday against Dallas. Dallas is not a great hockey team this season and has issues defensively, but they have enough offensive talent to be dangerous.
Two tough road tests with a physical challenge to boot
After playing 4 games in 6 days at home, the Hurricanes take to the road to play 2 teams near the top of the NHL standings with some travel and potential fatigue issues added for good measure.
Sunday at. Pittsburgh: Only 22 hours after the start of the game against Dallas in Raleigh on Saturday night, the Hurricanes will take the ice against a rested Penguins team in Pittsburgh on Sunday. The game will also be the fifth of the week. Last Sunday, the Hurricanes actually claimed an OTL point and even had a chance to win against the Flyers in the second half of a back-to-back on Sunday. But the top line results were misleading. The Hurricanes were noticeably sluggish and mostly outplayed the Hurricanes in that game.
Tuesday at Minnesota: The Hurricanes do get a day off to try to recharge after the 5-game week, but they also face another tough opponent on the road in the Minnesota Wild. On the road, it will be hard for Coach Bill Peters to dictate match ups, so he has to hope that the Hurricanes can play well from top to bottom (as they have been recently).
A potential must-win game
Thursday vs. New York Islanders: Much can change in the next 10 days of schedule. And right now, it is not clear if the Hurricanes are chasing the Bruins, Islanders or Lightning for the last playoff spot. But if it works out that the Islanders push into the #8 spot, the game on Thursday, April 6 could be a must-win game against the Islanders in Raleigh.
The weekend conclusion
The Hurricanes then play on Saturday and Sunday the weekend before the playoffs. Will the team have survived until then? Will it be running on fumes by that point readying to finish out the season with 9 games in 14 days? If the Hurricanes get to this point still in the chase, it will be a significant accomplishment but not the 1 that truly makes a difference.
Saturday vs. St. Louis: The Canes catch another playoff team for the home finale. As noted above, it seems like a wild guess at this early stage to guess whether the Hurricanes will be riding momentum or struggling to find enough jump and skating legs.
Sunday at Philadelphia: The season wraps up with a road game in Philadelphia on the last day of the 2016-17 season. The Bruins conclude their season on Saturday and the Lightning and Islanders both play (not against each other) at 5pm on Sunday. So by the end of the first period, the Hurricanes will know exactly the stakes in this final game.
Doing the math
When I break it down, I think the 4-game home stretch that starts tomorrow is critical. It represents the easiest stretch of schedule. After that the competition level increases and the potential for fatigue as well. I really think the Hurricanes need to get 7 or 8 points out of the 4-game home stretch with 6 maybe being borderline enough if the other teams slip a little bit too.
The Islanders game has a high probability of being a must-win game.
If the Hurricanes do collect enough points the first week, I then think it becomes a tense final week of scratching and clawing for every point possible and at the same time watching scoreboard.