What is still at stake
With the Hurricanes win on Thursday and fun night clinching a playoff spot at home, Saturday’s season finale in Philadelphia is dialed significantly down in terms of significance. Even with a loss, the Hurricanes will return to playoff hockey for the first time in a decade.
But the game still has significant ramifications in terms of playoff seeding. With a Canes win and a Pittsburgh loss, the Hurricanes could vault up to third place in the Metropolitan Division to play the Islanders. If the Hurricanes match Columbus for points on Saturday but do not catch Pittsburgh, the Hurricanes land in the first wild card slot and play Washington in the playoffs. Finally, if the Hurricanes lose and the Blue Jackets win, the Hurricanes will fall to the second wild card slot and will play the Lightning.
I stand my my assertion a few weeks back that any playoff position would be fine by me and that anything can happen in the playoffs regardless of regular season records. That said, I do prefer an Isles match up simply because they have less fire power and maybe played their best hockey in the first part of the season. Second, while I respect the Capitals especially after their two recent wins over the Hurricanes, I would rather face the caps and avoid the Lightning who were by far the best regular season team in the NHL.
The game itself
The Flyers are playing out the string as a non-playoff team, but never underestimate a decent team playing at home for the last time in five months. Despite the playoff miss, the Flyers still have a good amount of fire power.
From the Canes side, with only a single game gap between the playoff chase and the actual playoffs, the best thing to do is just keep the pedal down. Certainly, Brind’Amour will spread minutes evenly and it is possible that he rests a forward is anyone is dinged up, but especially with the chance to move up in the standings, the Canes will still mostly stick to playing to win.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Philadelphia Flyers
1) The first game after the exhale/immediately dialing it back up
With the win on Thursday and the playoff berth, the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes guaranteed themselves a successful season. But per Rod Brind’Amour’s rant in his post-game speech, the team needs to move past enjoying the first accomplishment and adopt the coach’s “We’re not done!” mentality. Saturday’s game is an in between game since the Canes do not need to win, but I think it is still a measure of how well/quickly the team can dial its intensity back up and resume playing with the ‘something to prove’ attitude that carried the season. So on Saturday, I will be watching for evidence that the rebound in intensity level is starting to take place.
2) Anyone missing?
With the playoffs assured, the potential is there for Brind’Amour to rest a player or two. In checking the team’s web site, I do not see any AHL call ups which would suggest that the team has only an extra forward available. So if Brind’Amour uses that extra player to rest any key forwards, it would suggest that he is probably not 100 percent. Is Ferland’s upper body injury (which I believe to be a shoulder) now 100 percent, or might he rest? Is it possible that Aho’s slower finish is in part due to some type of nagging lower body injury that is limiting his mobility? Etc. If and how the Hurricanes sit today could offer clues as to who is playing dinged up right now.
In years past, a regular watch point was players chasing personal milestones with the team results not mattering. Well-timed with the team’s results being much more important this season is the fact that there really is not a ton for milestones. Dougie Hamilton could reach 20 goals with two on Saturday. That is a HUGE number for a defenseman. With a goal, Warren Foegele would reach 10 goals. Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen who top the team’s scoring leaders lists have already set season high. So if Dougie Hamilton notches a goal early, I think he becomes the one to root for reach the 20-goal plateau.
4) The scoreboard
The Penguins and Blue Jackets also play their finales on Saturday night, so between the hours of 7pm and 9:30pm the Hurricanes have the potential to bounce up and down between the three playoff slots identified above. As I stated above, my slight preference for playoff match ups goes exactly in order of hardest to easiest for what needs to happen on Saturday night. As such, I will be watching the NHL scoreboard while I watch the Canes game.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.