I generally am not a very superstitious person, but hockey can be the 1 exception. I am refusing to too directly discussion what I will call the Hurricanes current late March situation, and under no circumstances will I utter the P-word. I obviously voted for “Shhhhhh…Don’t say a word.” in the poll in the Thursday Coffee Shop poll on the Hurricanes 2016-17 season.
But I cannot just ignore it either, so here is a chance to keep my various superstitions intact but also address the emerging “situation” as I will call it.
First and foremost, this is an incredibly good thing
For those who allow themselves another round of hope, they set up the potential for another round of disappointment. That could hurt, but I personally am fully embracing it and am going to enjoy every minute of it.
What does it take?
For those who are not in the mood for math and analysis and instead just want an answer, I say 8-2 likely with an important caveat that 1 of the 8 must be the home game against the Islanders on April 6.
Here is how I arrive at that total:
Boston Bruins: To catch the Bruins, the Hurricanes need to make up 6 points (gap is 5 but the Canes are about certain to lose the first tiebreaker which total regulation and overtime wins) but do have 2 games in hand. An 8-2 mark would require the Bruins to finish 5-3 or worse.
New York Islanders: With their big shootout win tonight against the Penguins, the Islanders pushed up 5 points on the Hurricanes, but the Hurricanes do have 1 game in hand. The Canes could catch the Isles in the first tiebreaker, but currently down 3 regulation and overtime wins, so that will be close). An 8-2 mark for the Canes including a win in the head-to-head match up, would force the Islanders to also do no better than 5-3 in the other 8 games not against the Canes.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning also picked up a big overtime win against Detroit on Friday night which pushed them to 81 points. Similar to Boston, Carolina now has 2 games in hand against the Lightning, and like the Islanders, the tiebreaker could go either way. Again assuming an 8-2 record for the Hurricanes, that pushes the Lightning to go 6-2.
How possible is that?
With only 10 games remaining, it is obviously better to be north of the cut line and not trying to make up ground to get there. And no doubt, the Hurricanes are still very much the underdogs. But team is playing incredibly well right now, and as long as they do not hit a wall physically, momentum and a positive vibe can be incredibly powerful this time of year.
To put the 8-2 in perspective. The Hurricanes have been incredibly good over the past 9 games and have been the equivalent of 7.5 wins and 2.5 losses if you split out the overtime losses. The Hurricanes basically need to do that again which is asking a lot. But again, momentum helps.
As for the other teams, the math is reasonable. It is not as if the requirements is a massive collapse by all 3 teams currently in front of the Hurricanes. They could do fairly well and still finish 5-3 which is all that is needed to accompany 8-2 for the Canes. In their past 10 games, the Bruins are only 5-5, the Lightning 6-3-1 and the Islanders 5-4-1. Based on that asking for 5-3 marks seems very reasonable.
The Bruins especially have a tough schedule with match ups against the other contenders (Islanders and Lightning) and 4 other games against current playoff teams. The Islanders schedule is a bit easier with 4 of their 9 games against non-playoff contenders. Finally, the Lightning schedule is a mixed bag with about half of the games against playoff teams and half not.
Aside from all the math, what do the Hurricanes need to do?
At the most basic level, it is simple. The Carolina Hurricanes need to keep winning. Down a few points, there is no chance to back into a playoff spot. That possibility is reserved for the teams who are staked to a lead in the standings right now.
To keep winning I see a few keys:
1) The goaltending which has been much better of late must remain solid. With very little margin for error, even 2 bad outings that cost the Hurricanes wins will likely be too much. The Hurricanes really need 10 at least decent starts out of 10 tries.
2) Despite the busy schedule, the Hurricanes must be able to find their skating legs. It probably takes some combination of lucky and fit such that they can find the higher gear necessary to win in the NHL in the vast majority of the 10 games remaining. Then they need to hopefully find a way to steal a game or 2 when they just do not have it physically. The Hurricanes came really close to doing so on Sunday in Philadelphia.
3) Just like with any winning streak, the Hurricanes will need to find a little bit of luck and timely scoring to tip a few even games into the win column. They did just that on Thursday when Lee Stempniak scored a late second period goal that was both incredibly timely (right at the end of the period with the score tied) and a little bit lucky (deflecting off a defenseman and past the goalie).
4) The team’s broad-based rise right now is a key component of the team’s recent success, but I have to think there will be need for leaders stepping up. When things get really tense in a close game, who is going to step up and make the couple huge plays that push a game into the win column.
I encourage everyone to try to enjoy the last few weeks of the regular season. We as a fan base deserve to go watch hockey that matters at PNC Arena in March (and ultimately later). The next 2 opportunities come from an odd Monday/Tuesday doubleheader against the Red Wings due to the cancellation earlier in the season.