It’s not the playoffs. Call it the playoff before the playoffs.
There’s one wild-card playoff spot in play in the Eastern Conference and four teams after it: Boston, Tampa Bay, the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes. The Bruins, on Thursday morning, held the spot with 86 points and won’t fall out of it after their Thursday game against the Dallas Stars.
Tampa Bay (83 points) hosts the Detroit Red Wings and the Islanders (82) play at Philadelphia on Thursday while the Canes (82) are facing the Columbus Blue Jackets at PNC Arena. The Flyers have 80 points with six games remaining.
“Everyone is getting dialed in and playing the right way,” Canes coach Bill Peters said after the morning skate. “There’s not a lot of free ice out there. So, yeah, it’s got a little bit of a more intense atmosphere.”
Points in the past 12 games (8-0-4) have given the Canes a chance with seven games left. An advantage for Boston: the Bruins play five of their last six at home.
“We’re right where we need to be,” Peters said. “We’ve gotten ourselves to this point, now we’ve got to find a way to continue to play well.
“Guys are excited about the opportunity. One game at a time is a cliche but that’s the reality of it. People are talking about things out of town but out of town doesn’t matter. We have to look after our own business.”
— Peters has done some line shuffling of late but there were no changes Thursday from the 4-1 win Tuesday over Detroit.
Jordan Staal was at center with Sebastian Aho and Elias Lindholm, Derek Ryan centered Jeff Skinner and Lee Stempniak, Victor Rask was at center with Joakim Nordstrom and Teuvo Teravainen and Lucas Wallmark centered Brock McGinn and Phil Di Giuseppe.
The defensive pairs were Jaccob Slavin-Brett Pesce, Noah Hanifin-Justin Faulk and Klas Dahlbeck-Matt Tennyson.
Goalie Cam Ward will play in his 58th game and Alex Nedeljkovic will be the backup.
-- Peters said goaltender Eddie Lack, who suffered a neck strain Monday against the Wings, felt better Thursday and could be skating again in a few days.
“That’s him being optimistic and him wanting to get back in, too,” Peters said. “He’s been playing real well and he’ll do everything he can to get ready, I know that.”
Lack was injured in a collision with the Wings’ Andreas Athanasiou, who scored the winning overtime goal on the play.
— The Blue Jackets are 6-1-1 in their last eight games and have 105 points, second only to the Washington Capitals (110) in the league.
Peters’ scouting report:
“They play hard and they’re very, very deep. They play the right way. They’re above you. They don’t give you anything for free. They’ve got some heavy guys on the back end … and they skate. (Zach) Werenski skates and (Seth) Jones skates.
“They have a lot of points for a reason. They started the season off well and sustained that. And they’re playing well again right now, not giving up anything. … They’ve got a nice mix of pace and some grit.”
The Blue Jackets did not have a morning skate Thursday. With a game Friday in Chicago, it’s possible Jackets coach John Tortorella could start goalie Joonas Korpisalo against the Canes and save Sergei Bobrovsky for the Blackhawks, who lead the Western Conference with 105 points.