The Carolina Hurricanes were officially eliminated from playoff contention on Saturday, and with three straight losses in crunch time, the Florida Panthers are currently racing rapidly in that same direction.
Such, oftentimes, is hockey in the final week of the NHL season.
For the Hurricanes, the represents a chance to rebound from a stereotypical Canes loss that saw the team widely out-shoot the opponent but also simultaneously shoot itself in the foot with the deadly combination of intermittent defensive break downs and inability to put the puck in the net despite shot volume.
More significantly, the game offers another 60 minutes of game version ice time to continue building for the 2018-19 season.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Florida Panthers
1) Sebastian Aho’s quest for 30 goals
In another down year, Sebastian Aho arguably ranks as the biggest bright spot. The 20-year old has built upon a strong rookie campaign in 2016-17 and has staked a claim to being the team’s best player. With three games to go, he needs only two goals to eclipse 30 goals after scoring 24 in his rookie season. Sebastian Aho continues to be worth watching on a nightly basis.
2) Scott Darling?
With the Easter weekend, I have not had time to hunt down if a starting goalie has been announced yet, but my wild guess (and hope too) is that Scott Darling continues to rotate in. Hidden beneath games that do not matter and mediocre top line statistics, Darling has been trending in the right direction for two games. He ultimately gave up four goals and lost against New Jersey two starts ago but showed some signs of progress in a game that saw the Hurricanes outplayed by a wide margin. Darling then followed it up with a sharp outing and a 4-1 win against the Washington Capitals. I am on record as thinking the ship has already sailed on Darling’s 2017-18 season, but with at least the possibility that he returns, any amount of righting the ship is a positive. So goaltending, if Darling is in net, makes it return to the #2 slot that it occupied during crunch time in the middle of the season.
3) Valentin Zykov
With the initial adrenaline rush maybe fading, Valentin Zykov will be worth watching down the stretch. Can he continue to hold his own defensively and produce offensively as he tries to settle in for the longer haul? With roster spots certain to be open for the 2018-19 season, that is worth watching in the final week of the season.
The puck drops at 7:30pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.