After 2 really rough weeks with a combined 0-5 mark, the Carolina Hurricanes used the All-Star break to recharge and then surged to 3 straight wins last week. And with the rebound, the roller coaster ride of a season in 2016-17 lurched back upward.
On January 17, I detailed what I thought the Hurricanes needed to do from mid-January through the end of February to stay in the playoff hunt heading into March. The first part of that plan sought a 2-2 mark in 4 tough games against the Metropolitan elite. The Canes missed big going 0-4. Following that, the aim was to go 4-2 in the next 6 games heading into the bye week. So far the Hurricanes are on track at 3-1 but do need 1-1 mark this week to make that a reality. Anything extra would help cover the 0-4 week.
Right now, the chase for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference stacks up like this as measured in games above .500 (with last week’s standings in parentheses):
Flyers +6 (+6)
Hurricanes +4 (+1)
Panthers +4 (+2)
Islanders +4 (+4)
Bruins +3 (+4)
Devils +1 (-1)
Sabres +1 (+1)
Red Wings (+1) (+0)
Lightning -1 (+0)
So basically, the Hurricanes closed from 5 points out of a playoff spot to only 2 points back and currently sit in a pack of 4 teams within 2-3 points of the eighth-place Flyers.
Of the 9 teams competing for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference right now, only 4 teams (Hurricanes, Panthers, Devils, Red Wings) had positive weeks as measured by collecting more points than games played and the Hurricanes bettered there position more than any other team.
Currently, the team that worries me the most is the Florida Panthers. The Panthers started the season expected to build on their playoff appearance last season, but their season has been marred by injuries to key players. But with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau both on the mend after long layoffs, Florida is the team that scares me most in terms of potential to go on an extended run to pull away from the pack. Huberdeau just made his 2016-17 debut on February 3. Barkov also returned on February after missing the month of January. The Flyers also deserve credit for holding at or above the cut line for an extended period of time with both ups and downs.
As I said last week, for the Hurricanes, it is not so much focusing on 1 team and trying to catch that team. For the Hurricanes, it is about capitalizing on a favorable February schedule in terms of rest and the split of home versus away games. And I am also sticking to my statement awhile back which asserted that to win the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference will require a big 8-10-game winning streak to rise above the pack of teams constantly bouncing back and forth from the win and loss columns. Right now the Hurricanes win streak sits at 3.
The week ahead
February is an odd month schedule-wise for the Hurricanes. The team plays only twice this week before its ‘bye week.’ The result is that the Hurricanes play only 2 games in the next 11 days before things pick up.
And those 2 games are tough. The Hurricanes face the powerhouse Capitals in the nation’s capital on Tuesday where the Caps have not lost in regulation in 11 games dating back to December 17. The Hurricanes experienced this challenge firsthand in a 6-1 thrashing in D.C. on January 23. The second game is another road match up in Dallas on Saturday. A surprise win on Tuesday would be phenomenal, but I also think this is a week where pushing forward with 1-1 would easily by acceptable.
Also at Canes and Coffee today, check out Andrew Schnittker’s interesting look ahead to the 2019-20 Hurricanes lineup, today’s Daily Cup of Joe with player by player comments on the Canes goalies and defensemen.
Keeping to the regular Monday/Thursday schedule, the Coffee Shop is officially open today with new polls on Aho, the week ahead and Ward/Lack and discussion questions on the trade deadline and more.