As long as the Canes hang within striking distance of the middle of the Eastern Conference pack, we are likely to have regular bouts of ‘this next stretch is really important.’ And obviously as we get later in the season they become more important. This said, I think the 4-game stretch leading up to the all-star break is critical. Over the course of December and January, the Carolina Hurricanes have played well, produced on the score board and climbed to within shouting distance of being in the mix. More so than trying to make up more ground, I think the last 4 games before the all-star break are critical in terms of just hanging in there for a couple reasons:
1-I think the team is dragging a bit physically and that a short layoff could be perfect for appreciating the opportunity ahead and recharging a bit to prepare for it.
2-I think the games ahead are a dangerous stretch.
On the first point, the Canes have leaned heavily on the top half of the roster in a few games and has played a couple busy stretches of schedule. The game in Pittsburgh on Sunday was a mess, and I think there is a good chance it was as much fatigue as just a bad game.
On the second point, I think the Toronto game on Thursday is very important. There are enough points left if the Canes lose that game, but I think it could be a struggle and also a gut check. A loss would run a losing streak to 3 (with first being an overtime loss) which is not catastrophic by any means, but it is followed immediately by the second half of a back-to-back against a good Rangers team. If the first domino fall with a loss on Thursday, the second 1 on Friday could be right behind it. The stretch of 4 games leading up to the all-star break also concludes with a tough match up against the red hot Chicago Blackhawks. The Calgary game at home on Sunday looks a bit easier, but it is not at all a gimme. Calgary’s record is similar to the Canes.
I think something like 2-1-1 would be a treading water kind of win and good enough. The best stretch of schedule to go on a run sits just on the other side of the all-star break in February, but the Canes need to get there with the pack still in sight. With a 1-0 start in Toronto on Thursday, 2-1-1 for the last 4 seems possible. With an 0-1 start, the Canes are suddenly trying to fight off an extended losing streak, are facing a couple tough opponents and need to go 2-0-1 to make the 2-1-1 mark.
Shorter version: Big game Thursday night in Toronto.
How exciting is it that the Hurricanes have at least reached level 1 for playing important games with stuff on the line in late January?