The subject was the Stanley Cup playoffs and how Jeff Skinner, in his seventh season with the Carolina Hurricanes, might again be on the outside looking in.
“It’s always more fun to win, and if you’re not in the playoffs you’re not winning enough,” Skinner said. “That’s the goal every year, and we’re still trying to get there. We believe in the group we have in here.”
Skinner’s comments were made before the March 11 game against Toronto at PNC Arena and weren’t idle words. The winger soon was on a tear, scoring nine goals in the past eight games to reach 30 for the season and give the Canes at least a fighting chance at the last wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
After a workmanlike 3-1 victory Saturday over the New Jersey Devils that ended a 3-0-1 road trip, the Canes (33-27-13) had 79 points. The Boston Bruins, beating the New York Islanders 2-1 Saturday on a pair of Riley Nash goals, held the second wild-card spot with 84 points.
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“Guys are playing well, guys are dialed in,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “You’ve got to continue to keep pace. Around the league everyone seems to find a way to win, so you’ve got to keep pace and then hopefully somebody falters.”
The Canes have six of their final nine games at home, beginning with Monday’s matchup against the Detroit Red Wings. It’s the game rescheduled from Dec. 19, when a refrigerant leak caused the ice temperature at PNC Arena to rise and forced a postponement.
So here they are: the Canes and Wings, in back-to-back games at PNC Arena.
The Wings had a game Sunday against the Minnesota Wild, then were scheduled for a Tuesday game at Carolina. The rescheduling forces Detroit to play three games in three days while the Canes have four in six this week in their homestand.
The Canes faced the Islanders on back-to-back nights this year. But that was a home-and-home set as the Canes won on the road March 13, Skinner scoring twice, then lost to the Isles in overtime the next night at PNC Arena.
For much of the season, the Canes were the team that couldn’t win on the road. Wins against Arizona and then the Isles changed that trend, and Canes added three more on the trip that ended Saturday against the Devils.
Rookie Sebastian Aho scored twice, and Skinner reached the 30-goal mark for the third time in his career. Skinner knocked the puck away from Devils defenseman Andy Greene and scored the go-ahead goal at 9:34 of the third period, his fourth game-winner of the season.
Aho’s second goal, his 23rd, clinched it. Fighting and chopping for the puck to the side of the net, surrounded by Devils, he finally collected it long enough to rip a shot past goalie Cory Schneider.
“He’s very competitive,” Peters said. “The kids in the upper echelon like he is are really competitive, and he’s right there with them.”
Skinner, who has a hint of a beard on his chin at age 24, remembers being 19 like Aho, scoring goals and being called a “kid.” He said he has enjoyed watching the Finnish forward some call “Seabass” develop into a solid two-way NHL player.
“Coming into the year we had some new faces, some young guys,” Skinner said. “A lot of guys have taken some good steps over the course of the season and ‘Seabass’ is probably the prime example of that. He’s only gotten better and better.”
The Canes are 7-0-3 over the last 10 games, their best stretch of the season. Skinner’s goal streak is five straight games, Elias Lindholm has points in the past 10 games and Aho in the past six.
Goalie Eddie Lack, who had 26 saves against New Jersey, has won his past four starts, and Cam Ward is 3-0-3 in his past six.
“Guys are hungry, guys are playing hard,” Peters said.
As Skinner said, still trying to get there.
DETROIT RED WINGS AT CAROLINA HURRICANES
When: 7 p.m., Monday
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh