Just how important is fourth place in the NHL's Eastern Conference and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs?
The Canes' players and coaches talk about the noise level in the RBC Center and the record 12-game winning streak at home and the atmosphere in the building. No doubt that's a plus. But there's no do-or-die sense about the need to secure the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference in the last two regular-season games.
"We have the board in our room (with the standings) and obviously everyone knows where things are," coach Paul Maurice said today. "Not once did anyone say, 'Tonight's a big game because we can move into sixth, seventh, eighth, wherever we were.' We just ignored that.
"I'm hopeful we can play hard and play well, but I don't feel, and I don't think this team should feel any pressure based on standings. We would like to finish fourth because we can. At the same time, and as much as clearly we should enjoy playing at home, I'm not as concerned with home-ice advantage as it's made out to be at certain times.
"I think there are times starting on the road is a little easier. If you look at the number of first-round losses that happen in the first round of games, the pressure is so much then it's almost reversed on the home team."
In last year's playoffs, the fifth-seeded New York Rangers opened with two wins at fourth-seeded New Jersey and won the first-round Eastern Conference series in five games. In the Western Conference, the fifth-seeded Dallas Stars opened with two wins at fourth-seeded Anaheim and won in six.
Maurice said the Canes, tied with the fourth-place Philadelphia Flyers with 97 points, know they're not finishing first in the East, and know that to go deep into the playoffs or win the Stanley Cup, they'll have to win in the other team's building.
Then again ...
"We're still playing," Maurice said. "We're not saying that fourth place doesn't matter and let's take it easy and coast in."