After a completing a 4-1 road trip, the Carolina Hurricanes returned home and kept rolling on Friday night against the Oilers. The game was nothing close to a masterpiece, but we are very clearly at the time of year when results trump all else.
With a quick turnaround, the Hurricanes will look to stay hot against the Dallas Stars at PNC Arena on Saturday night.
With the Pittsburgh Penguins playing on Saturday afternoon, the Hurricanes could take the ice needing a win to overtake the Penguins for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Regardless, the game will be another big one.
A key difference is the opponent. The Hurricanes just wrapped up a stretch of three games against struggling opponents. Though the Hurricanes did not dominate the group, the team did collect a respectable four out of six points. But the Dallas Stars are a different animal. Despite having three points fewer than the Hurricanes (with one game in hand), the Stars are firmly entrenched in a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
On the Hurricanes side of the ledger, the team needs to find a higher gear. Curtis McElhinney bailed out what was mostly a lackluster effort on Friday, and the win over Ottawa prior to that was mostly a 20-minute surge. While the results are appreciated, the Hurricanes will need to find a higher gear to win against tougher competition in March.
Against that backdrop, my watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Dallas Stars
1) A higher gear
In consecutive games against lesser competition, the Hurricanes have found a way to win, but neither game was really a good effort. Especially after playing the night before, I will be watching on Saturday to see if the Hurricanes can re-find a higher gear.
2) Petr Mrazek
The Hurricanes relied probably a bit too much on Curtis McElhinney to be the difference-maker in Friday’s win. With the team playing a bit below its peak right now and against a rested team in the second half of the back-to-back, Mrazek may need to follow McElhinney’s lead and be the difference. I will be watching to see if Mrazek looks sharp early and capable of holding the fort if necessary.
3) Best against best
The Hurricanes continued a reasonably successful run of holding Connor McDavid at bay. In the same game, Sebastian Aho’s line netted two goals. On Saturday, the Hurricanes will face another team with high-end scoring talent. I will be watching to see if Aho and company can better the likes of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn and also if the blue line can hold its own against elite talent.
4) The scoreboard
The Penguins play in the afternoon. If they lose, the Hurricanes will be playing to move into the #8 spot in the Eastern Conference Standings. If the Pens win a loss by the Blue Jackets (who start at 8:30pm) couple with a Canes win would similarly boost the Canes into the #8 spot.
It is February 16 y’all! And we are talking about scenarios that put our beloved Canes into playoff position!
The puck drops at 8pm at PNC Arena.