After a disappointing 3-1 loss to the Penguins on Sunday to close out a tough 1-3 week, the Hurricanes find themselves still in playoff position but only by the thinnest of margins and with the need to play winning hockey in the final week of the season.
The Penguins and the #3 spot in the Metropolitan Division are now all but out of reach. The Hurricanes were also passed by the Blue Jackets who are now rising and have a fairly easy last week of schedule. That turns the focus to beating out the Canadiens for the final playoff spot.
That chase resumes on Tuesday night in Toronto. The Maple Leafs clinched a playoff with a road win against the Islanders on Monday night. Here is hoping that the Maple Leafs have a little bit of a letdown without much to do until the playoffs begin. Regardless, the Leafs are a modest 4-4-2 in their past 10 games.
The Hurricanes enter the game following a tough week in which they were not able to match tougher competition. The biggest thing coming out of the Pittsburgh loss is re-finding the pace and pressure that makes for peak Hurricanes hockey in 2018-19. Instead of being the aggressor on the forecheck, the Hurricanes instead were the team fumbling the puck under duress.
Winning on Tuesday will require a better effort.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Toronto Maple Leafs
1) Who tilts the ice?
Against Pittsburgh, the the Penguins were the aggressor on the forecheck from the start and mostly throughout. A couple other teams have also been able to turn the tables on the Hurricanes in recent games, so this is definitely worth watching. Can the Hurricanes get the puck deep into the offensive zone and then hem the Leafs in? Or are the Canes destined to again be the team stuck in its own end like in Sunday’s loss to Pittsburgh?
2) Attention to detail and ability to move the puck from their own end
The Hurricanes troubles in Sunday’s loss started with the Penguins forecheck but there was also a significant element of sloppiness in the mix. The Hurricanes turned the puck over repeatedly in their own end when pressured. Then on top of that, the Canes struggled with defensive zone coverage. I will be watching see if the Hurricanes can play a cleaner brand of hockey in their own end on Tuesday.
3) Heroes rising up
With only three games to go and a slim one-point lead in the playoff chase, we have reached the point were the pressure is significant. Some players have a tendency to rise up in such occasions. Other players can start gripping the stick tightly or start overthinking things. To push through the the final week and up into the playoffs, the Hurricanes will need key players to step up and play their best games of the season. On Tuesday, I will be watching to see if in fact the Hurricanes can find a couple leaders/heroes.
The puck drops at 7:30pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.