Battling for a playoff spot, the Carolina Hurricanes face one of the toughest stretches of their schedule in the final 21 games.
Of those remaining regular-season games, 16 of them will be part of back-to-back sets. The Canes (28-24-9) also will play three games in four nights four more times this season. Only the Buffalo Sabres have more back-to-back sets this season (22 to the Canes' 21), with the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers having the fewest (11).
"We didn't get a break there, but we've known about it all year, so we can't complain about it," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said after Tuesday's 4-3 shootout loss to the New York Rangers. "We certainly can't use it as an excuse."
To get ready for the next back-to-back set, which begins at home Friday against the Pittsburgh Penguins (7 p.m., FSCR), there was no skating Wednesday, with players showing up at the RBC Center for light workouts.
At this point of the season, there's a balancing act between keeping legs fresh and keeping the team sharp with practice time.
"We've changed the way we practice and done some things to try to keep that energy level, and at times it's at the expense of some sharpness with the puck," Maurice said. "But we're going to have to win those back-to-back nights ... That's the pressure that comes at the end."
Carolina is 7-2-4 so far in the first game of back-to-back sets, and 6-6-1 in the second game.
"On back-to-back nights, you have to keep it simple," Carolina forward Jussi Jokinen said. "I still like our schedule. We have lots of games at home. There are a few back-to-backs, but I don't think it's going to be a problem for us."
The good thing for the Canes is that 13 of their final 21 games are at home, where they will play the second game in six of their remaining eight back-to-back sets.
Captain Eric Staal said that just because the second game is at home, that doesn't necessarily make it easier.
"It depends on the other team in on a back-to-back, too," he said. "If they're sitting here waiting for you to come home, sometimes that's not too nice. It totally depends on the situation. Obviously, you like home games, and you want home games. We want to feed off that energy. You want to use the crowd, use the energy in the building, and hopefully it brings you an extra jump."
Of their remaining eight second-night opponents, only three of them will have gotten rest.
Rest and fatigue is usually the biggest factor, and Staal said short shifts early in those games is important, and then hydration after a game. But that isn't always easy, especially under such a grueling schedule, which requires the team to fly out after the first game and get to the next destination late that same night.
"It messes up your sleep cycle," Hurricanes rookie defenseman Jamie McBain said. "You just have to battle through it. It's part of the job to kind of take care of yourself."
With the Hurricanes barely holding on to the eighth and final playoff spot, they can ill afford to come out slow, a chief concern in that second game of a back-to-back.
"Usually it takes just one good shift to buzz around in their zone a little bit, get a few hits," said alternate captain Brandon Sutter. "That kind of gets you going. We have to start finding ways to do that in the first shift and get the game going right away, but we've done all right the last few weeks with our starts. We've done a little bit better."
That will have to continue if there's going to be hockey played here past April 9.
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