For many local sports fans, ACC tournament week is the official transition out of Carolina Hurricanes hockey season. The local media all disappears for the weekend and when the Hurricanes are out of the playoff hunt, they never really return. And for fans, a couple weeks of peak basketball excitement is enough to gradually leave Hurricanes hockey. And from that point forward, the small number of die hards ride out the remainder of the season looking for cause for optimism for next year.
But as I watch the NCAA tournament brackets being announced on March 17, the Hurricanes season is anything but over.
Simple math puts the Hurricanes in the first of two wild card slots in the Eastern Conference. When one adjusts for games in hand, the picture looks even brighter.
With 11 games remaining, the Hurricanes control their own destiny in terms of returning to the playoffs. But the team also has a couple treacherous stretches of schedule and a tiny margin for error such that even a short burst of losing could doom playoff hopes.
The key for the team right now is simply to keep pushing. After losses on Friday night on consecutive weeks, the team rebounded twice on Saturday. In doing so, the team just reached a full two months without losing consecutive games. The Hurricanes do not need to win out or do anything else spectacular. The Hurricanes simply need to keep winning at a reasonable pace. With the Canadiens faltering a bit late, something like 6-5 could be enough to win the last playoff spot especially if that 6-5 includes a win over the Canadiens on Sunday at PNC Arena.
The current version of the Hurricanes is good enough to do that. The team just needs to strike the right balance of loose and determined and avoid tightening up as the pressure mounts.
The schedule ahead
March 19 vs. Penguins — The battle for 3rd in the Metro
March 21 vs. Lightning — The ultimate measuring stick
March 23 vs. The Wild — Another battle against a hungry team
March 24 vs. Canadiens — A chance to kill the competition
March 26 at Capitals — Home and home to climb up the Metro standings
March 28 vs. Capitals — Part 2
March 30 vs. Flyers — Battling a spoiler
March 31 at Penguins — Still for 3rd in the Metro?
April 2 at Maple Leafs — Last of the gauntlet
April 4 vs. Devils — White knuckler against a spoiler?
April 6 at Flyers — The finale!
What say you Canes fans?
1) What record do you think it takes in the last 11 games to make the playoffs? What record do you think the Canes will achieve?
2) Which stretch(es) are most dangerous?
3) Who has the guts to take a shot at predicting W-L outcomes for all 11 remaining games?