Canes still trying to keep hope alive

Posted by Chip Alexander on April 5, 2014 

It's tempting to say the Canes now have fallen into the role of spoilers.

Mathematically, the Canes may still have a shot at the playoffs with five games left in the season. But realistically? Not so much. There are, after all, just five games left.

But Canes coach Kirk Muller begs to differ.

"We're battling right to the end," he said Saturday. "We got some help last night and we're doing our part of pecking away and getting wins and getting (points)."

The Canes have 79 points and are six points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were beaten Friday by the Chicago Blackhawks but hold the final wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Jackets losing helped, for sure.

But the Devils topped the Washington Capitals 2-1. Both teams are ahead of the Canes in the standings, which makes things even more problematic for the Canes in trying to gain ground and make a move up.

Standing between Carolina and Columbus are Toronto (84 points), New Jersey (82) and the Caps (81). The Maple Leafs host the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday and the Caps have a road game against the New York Islanders. The Canes need to win and need to get more help.

The Canes (34-32-11) again will play without defenseman Andrej Sekera, who Muller said has been slowed recently by a lower-body injury. Sekera went through the pregame warmup Thursday before the Dallas Stars game but realized he couldn't go and was a late scratch.

Mike Komisarek replaced Sekera in the lineup Thursday in the 4-1 victory, but Ryan Murphy should play Saturday. Murphy was recalled Friday from the Charlotte Checkers (AHL).

The defensive pairs at the morning skate had Justin Faulk with Ron Hainsey, John-Michael Liles with Brett Bellemore and Murphy with Jay Harrison.

Anton Khudobin, who has beaten the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Stars in the past two games, should again be the starter in net.

Forwards Alex Semin, Jiri Tlusty and Drayson Bowman -- who all missed the Stars game -- were at the skate. The lines had Eric Staal centering Andrei Loktionov and Semin; Jordan Staal at center with Nathan Gerbe and Pat Dwyer; Riley Nash centering Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm, and Manny Malhotra with Bowman and Radek Dvorak. Tlusty, who has had an upper-body injury, apparently will be held out of the game.

"I think everyone is focused on trying to finish out the season as hard as we can and come to work and improve as players and as a team," Skinner said Saturday.

With the Devils in the second half of a back-to-back, Muller is counting on a fast start from the Canes.

"We've got to come at them hard," he said. "You look at guys like (Jaromir) Jagr, last night he played 28 minutes and is coming back the next night. We've got to play a high-tempo game and try to wear them down."

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