After winning an exhilarating game in comeback fashion against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, the Canes push forward to the next “biggest game of the season” with an important twist. This “biggest game of the season” is IN APRIL, and it hits a Saturday that should be phenomenal for tailgating. All it takes is a win to create a newer and even bigger “biggest game of the season.”
If you missed Thursday’s win, the game recap might just be worth a read after the fact. What jumps out at me after some time for the game to settle in is 2 things. First is the atmosphere at PNC Arena in the third period. That level of intensity has been sorely missed. Second is how well the Hurricanes who are young and were in unfamiliar territory held together in the third period and did not start gambling or trying to do too much in the wrong kind of desperation.
But we have definitely reached the ‘what have you done for me lately?’ stage of the season, and the Hurricanes must quickly recharge and then refocus on the next game. On paper, Saturday should be easier than Thursday. Whereas Thursday’s opponent was the second best team in the entire NHL, Saturday’s opponent is a down on their luck Dallas Stars team that entered the season with high hopes but fell well short. The team has long been eliminated from playoff contention. But if the Hurricanes think they can punch their ticket forward to Sunday with another win because of the paper match up, Saturday will be a night of tough lessons. Dallas has plenty of talent if they get going. In March, the Stars have wins over Washington and San Jose twice in addition to a shootout loss to Chicago. The Hurricanes need to show up and play like they did Thursday and maybe even better leaving nothing to chance.
‘What I’m watching for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Dallas Stars
Against that backdrop, here is what I’m watching for Saturday’s game:
1) Legs, pace and intensity
Despite the busy March schedule, the Hurricanes have pretty consistently been able to find the right gear and get their skating legs going. Only the road loss in overtime in the second half of a back-to-back with travel stands out as a night when the team seemed to hit the wall physically. But nonetheless, it is still something to keep an eye on as the Hurricanes play their fourth game in only 6 days. So out of the gate, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can bring the pace, skating and attacking style that has been a hallmark of their play of late.
2) Jeff Skinner
He continues to surge and lead the way offensively. Here is hoping that his current burst of scoring has at least 6 games left in it. I actually would not put Skinner’s game on Thursday near the top of his recent list, but he made a couple huge plays when the opportunity presented itself and that was enough to provide the offense needed to propel the Hurricanes to a win. On Saturday against Dallas, I will be watching to see if Jeff Skinner is buzzing early and looking like he is going to take over and lead the good guys to a win.
3) Sound defense
One of the more subtle but also impressive aspects of Thursday’s win was the Hurricanes’ ability to play sound positional and decision-making hockey even when hemmed in their own end. Columbus was the better team in the first period and controlled the puck for long chunks of time but was unable to convert possession into many grade A chances. That is a testament to how well the Hurricanes defended without the puck. With some dangerous offensive players led by Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes defense can again be sound and solid.
The puck drops at about 7:07pm at PNC Arena in the “biggest game of the season!”