When Ottawa won on Tuesday night with the Hurricanes’ game still in progress, the Carolina Hurricanes were officially eliminated from NHL playoff contention for 2017. There is no more “we just need to keep winning,” “let’s play well and see what happens,” or any of that. The team is officially playing with a short runway of games to prepare for the 2017-18 season.
The New York Islanders are not officially in the same boat but are more or less finished. To make the playoffs would require the Isles to win their last 3 games and also have 1 of Ottawa or Toronto lose all 3 of their remaining games in addition to some help from Tampa Bay.
I see 3 story lines for this game. First is the return of Bryan Bickell who will make his return to Raleigh after suiting up for his first NHL game on Tuesday night in Minnesota after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on November 11, 2016. Second is game 2 of Andrew Poturalski’s NHL audition. Third is the potential for a wild and entertaining game. For whatever reason, the combination of the Hurricanes and Islanders this season generates goals in bunches. Three previous match ups have yielded 37 total goals including a wild 8-4 win by the Hurricanes in Brooklyn.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Hurricanes versus the New York Islanders
1) Andrew Poturalski
He did not play poorly on Tuesday night in his NHL by my estimation, but he did not stand out either. With a growing volume of capable and reasonably proven fringe AHL/NHL forwards, seizing the opportunity and impressing in his short NHL trial will be a significant factor in where Poturalski enters the 2017-18 training camp on the depth chart and in terms of chance to make the team. Best guess is that he is still a year or 2 away from competing for an NHL roster slot, but he has his chance right now to prove differently. On Tuesday, he played on a fourth line which is not ideal for showcasing his playmaking skill set, but he must do what he can with whatever opportunity is given to him. On Thursday, I will be watching to see if he can generate offense and be sound defensively at the same time.
2) Justin Faulk
He had what I would characterize as a road relapse game on Tuesday in Minnesota. His tough outing was reminiscent of the struggles he had in the first half of the season when the Hurricanes dug a hole on the road. Thursday is at home, and it is against a lineup that is minus John Tavares, but I would still find it encouraging to see Faulk bounce back in a strong way.
3) Jeff Skinner
He continues to be worth the price of admission on a nightly basis in March and April. With his 2 goals last night, Skinner set a new career high when he reached 34 and then tacked on another for good measure. He needs only 2 points to reach 63 and tie his career high set in his rookie season in 2010-11. Netting 5 more goals to get to 40 seems incredibly far-fetched, but he has 3 in his past 2 game and 3 games to go. If he stays hot on Thursday, who knows. Regardless, Jeff Skinner is definitely worth watching on an every shift basis right now.
4) Bryan Bickell
In a Hurricanes season full of wonderful people stories, we get yet another on Thursday night when Bryan Bickell makes his return to PNC Arena for the first time since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on November 11. Best guess is that he gets the start which makes for a special moment that is well worth watching to start the game.
The puck drops at about 7:07pm at PNC Arena in Raleigh.