If you have not bumped into it elsewhere yet today, please check out Canes and Coffee’s effort to raise “coffee funds” to cover monthly expenses (boring) and also hopefully build a small budget for fun additions this summer (more exciting) in preparation for the 2017-18 season.
With a Hurricanes overtime loss giving up a point and nothing gained with Tuesday’s win that just matched the Bruins win, the stakes continue to get higher each and every game.
After a day off, the Hurricanes will face-off against a tough opponent in the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets come into the game with the second best record in the entire NHL and still with a chance to catch to Washington Capitals to wrestle away the President’s Trophy and claim a home ice advantage for as long as they can stay in the playoffs. Columbus also sports a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games.
Put more briefly. The Columbus Blue Jackets represent a tough opponent on Thursday night in Raleigh.
From the Hurricanes’ side, it is simply about doing what they have been doing which is playing good hockey and winning, importantly with an ever-decreasing margin for error. The Hurricanes have reached the stage where they really need to get every point.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Hurricanes versus the Columbus Blue Jackets
And on that note, here is ‘what I’m watching’ for Thursday’s game
1) Energy, pace and legs
We have reached the point in the season and the overloaded March schedule where hitting a physical wall is a looming possibility each and every night. Thus far, the Hurricanes continue to look capable physically. And the team did have Wednesday off to recharge. But especially against Columbus, being able to play an attacking game with speed will be critical for the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes do have a 5-3 home win to their credit against the Blue Jackets on January 10. The Hurricanes played well but also benefited from leaky goaltending in that game. In 2 other games on the road, the Jackets mostly squeezed the life out of the Canes in 4-1 and 3-2 losses. The key to the game is likely to be the neutral zone. If the Hurricanes can skate and move the puck with pace through the middle of the rink, their offense is activated. If they are stymied and unable the move the puck, the game becomes a grinding territorial battle that is not ideal for the Hurricanes style of play. Similarly, if the Hurricanes have 1 of those nights (and there have been a few recently even during the points streak) in which they grant a free pass through the neutral zone with speed, they will have a tough time defensively. Early in the game, I will be watching closely to see what the Hurricanes look like for skating pace and also whether they are winning or losing in the neutral zone.
2) Cam Ward
On a night when Detroit seemed gassed playing their third game in 3 days, Ward received a relatively easy game to ease his way back into rhythm. To his credit, Ward handled the workload given to him and deserves high marks for that. But at some point, the Hurricanes are going to need their goalie to rise up and tilt an even or worse game into the win column. In case that call comes on Thursday, I will be watching early to see if Ward looks sharp early and can make timely saves.
3) Staying within themselves and playing their game
With the pressure mounting, the Hurricanes wavered and looked like a completely different team on Monday. There were unforced errors and maybe most significantly too many mistakes (Jeff Skinner was front and center with a relapse) from trying to do too much. The Hurricanes were much better in this regard on Tuesday, but it is hard to say if the Hurricanes self-corrected or if Detroit was just too winded to generate enough pressure. Against a good team like the Blue Jackets, if the Hurricanes spot them 5-7 grade A scoring chances on decision-making mistakes, it will likely be a really long night.
4) Leaders rising up
The Hurricanes have had a rotating collection of leaders in recent wins which is a good thing obviously. Any and all contenders are welcome, but I will go for Jordan Staal with a possible side of Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk.
We have reached that point in the season (ON MARCH 30!!!) when every game is the biggest game of the season until it is not. This biggest game of the year is at about 7:07 at PNC Arena.