On Thursday, the Carolina Hurricanes lost their second consecutive game to the Capitals by a score of 3-2. As I said on Twitter shortly after the game ended:
No doubt a win over #ALLCAPS would have charted an easier path, but the Hurricanes will start the stretch run in playoff position.
That is an incredibly good thing. #TakeWarning
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) March 29, 2019
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes stock for the Carolina Hurricanes as it recuperates on Friday before a final burst of five games in eight days to close out the 2018-19 season and determine if a return to the NHL playoffs is in the cards.
What to make of the consecutive losses to the Capitals
To be honest, I see the consecutive losses to the Capitals pretty simply. The Caps are a top-tier hockey team and are rounding into form in time for the playoffs. As such, the team is a tough match up for anyone. So losing to them twice is not overly telling in terms of the current state of the team. After all, the Hurricanes were in both games through two periods and only really lost in the third period. So the gap between the two teams is there, but it is not that incredibly big. When paired with a similar loss to the Lightning last week, I think the games do show that there is another tier above the Hurricanes. But that is okay. So I think critical here is not to dwell on what might have been. The Hurricanes still control their own destiny and need to focus on what is next.
The current standings and competition
With Thursday’s results, the Hurricanes now have a slim one-point lead over both the Canadiens and Blue Jackets. In addition, the Hurricanes have a game in hand versus the Canadiens. All the Hurricanes need to do to make the playoffs is match one of these two teams in points for the final five games.
Someone asked me before the Hurricanes game who I was rooting for in the Blue Jackets versus Canadiens game. I said that with a Canes win I would root for Montreal, but that for a Canes loss I would root for Columbus. My reasoning is this. If the Hurricanes were to win, I would have gladly taken the Columbus loss and the five-point lead with only five games remaining. Columbus has a favorable remaining schedule, but I would gladly have taken my chances with the plus 5 points. But if instead the Hurricanes were to lose (which the team did), I would rather keep the slim lead over Montreal and take my chances that the Hurricanes can out-point them over the remaining games. I like that option for two reasons. First, the Hurricanes have a game in hand on the Canadiens, so the Canadiens only have four more chances for points. More significantly, Montreal has a gauntlet run to finish out its season with games at Winnipeg, versus Tampa Bay, at Washington and then versus Toronto. Considering head to head against Montreal, the potential is there to limp into the playoffs with a .500ish record because the Canadiens tough schedule keeps them to the same.
But focusing internally…
But focusing internally, I really think that Saturday’s game says a ton about who this team really is. Per my comment on Twitter late Thursday night:
I think Saturday's @NHLCanes game is the game that ultimately decides if this team truly is different from recent years.
Win and the playoff push resumes after brief interruption.
Lose and it's more of the same.
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) March 29, 2019
After two consecutive losses, many Carolina Hurricanes fans who have been around for the last couple years of heartbreak and disappointment are rightfully some combination of paranoid, skeptical scared. Whenever facing the tipping point between relevant and irrelevant, the Hurricanes have always faltered.
It is reasonable to believe that the 2018-19 Hurricanes are different. The team has a new coach who oozes success and winning. The team has a new captain who knows from experience what it takes to win. The team has a roster that is about half new such that not everyone is carrying around the baggage of past failures. And though it could just be wishful thinking, the team has a positive vibe and energy around it. But at the end of the day, the objective measure for “different” is results. To qualify as different, the team needs to win in this latest round of deciding games and push up and into the playoffs.
I really think that the Hurricanes game on Saturday afternoon is THE game. With Montreal’s tough schedule as noted above, I do think it is possible to lose on Saturday and also other games and still muddle their way into the playoffs if Montreal struggles. But I do not see that path to the playoffs as indicative of a meaningful turning point in the team’s history and fortunes.
I think winning on Saturday could put a stake in the ground for team history and with results make a meaningful claim that this team is different. And because of the circumstances, I think the Hurricanes must win this game. Consider that the Canes are coming off of two consecutive losses, the urgency to win should be there. Given the non-playoff opponent in an odd Saturday matinee, sometimes players struggle to manufacturing pace and intensity. The Hurricanes should theoretically have a significant advantage in generating that energy. There is obviously some randomness the NHL results, but I still think that if the Hurricanes are serious about generating a new identity, I think it starts with Saturday’s game.
How does it end?
The resiliency of this team and ‘just find a way’ wins from early January through now makes me think that this team has in fact changed for the better. Furthermore, it is subjective but increasingly I believe that this team has turned the corner. I think the Hurricanes take care of business on Saturday and win by two or more goals. Then from there I think the team wins at least two more games which should be enough too make the playoffs.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you make of the two-game losing streak to the Capitals? Is it just a tough stretch of schedule? Or might there be concern that the team is fading?
2) Do you think Saturday’s tilt against Philadelphia is THE game as I have it? Or do you maybe think that all that really matters is the end result?