In beating the Boston Bruins 3-2 in overtime Friday, the Carolina Hurricanes looked like a team that could — that’s could, not should — contend for a playoff spot.
Jordan Staal scored shorthanded. The Canes rallied in the third. Cam Ward kept the Canes in it. Teuvo Teravainen sniped a winner in overtime.
Just like that, the Canes were raising their sticks after another home-ice win at PNC Arena.
Finding a way to win is what good teams do. It’s something the Canes, 15-11-7 coming out of the Christmas break, must continue to do as they try to chase down the teams ahead them in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
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“We’re comfortable with where our team game is and we’re comfortable with our lineup, taking it anywhere against anybody,” Canes coach Bill Peters said.
The Metropolitan Division claimed five playoff spots last season and could do it again. Holding the two wild-card spots are the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers, both with 44 points, seven ahead of the Canes.
The Canes are 13-7-5 in November and December, picking up 1.24 points a game in that 25-game span. Maintain that pace over the final 49 games and they would finish with 98 points.
Would 98 be enough to make the playoffs? It has been the past three seasons.
A look at four things needed the rest of the way:
Better on the road
Here’s something the Canes can’t undo and must overcome: they played 18 of their first 28 games on the road and won just four of the 18.
Going 4-6-8, at a time while other Metro teams were streaking, pushed the Canes back in the pack. Winning recently at home -- 9-0-1 in the past 10 -- has helped them make up some ground.
Going to Buffalo last week and holding off the Sabres to win was a plus for Carolina. But the next two weeks have road games against Pittsburgh, then Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Chicago.
“It always seems to be a one-goal game, no matter who we play, so we feel we can play with anybody in the league whether we’re home or on the road,” Peters said.
Ward can’t start every game in net, although he almost has (27 starts, 33 games). They need quality starts from backup goaltender Eddie Lack.
Lack’s concussion during practice last month was unfortunate for him and for the team. Michael Leighton was called up from Charlotte and filled in admirably but the Canes need some consistently good play from Lack, given a two-year, $5.5 million contract extension before last season.
Ward has played both games in the Canes’ last three back-to-back sets. He said he felt comfortable against Boston, saying, “When you’re playing well you kind of want to just keeping going.” But it’s asking a lot from the veteran.
Keep the killer instinct
The Canes continue to lead the NHL in penalty killing at 90.6 percent, but can they maintain that pace?
Anaheim led the NHL last season at 87.2 percent and Minnesota finished at 86.3 in 2014-15. There could be some slippage in the grind of the year.
Peters calls the P.K. guys the “team within the team” and notes they have pride in being No. 1 in the league. The Canes’ power play likely will have its ups and downs and remain unpredictable, meaning the P.K. must keep on killin’ it.
Raising the bar
To make the playoffs for the first time since 2009, a lot of players in the Canes lineup may need to lift their games to another level.
Teravainen needs to be a factor every game. Sebastian Aho, a rookie improving each game, has to become a better shooter and get more shots on net. Victor Rask needs to get back to being strong in the circle again. The D-men other than Justin Faulk need to contribute more offensively. … and so it goes.
As Staal said, “We want to keep climbing the ladder and do all the things we need to do to compete every night.”
Looking ahead, March could be a brutal month. The Canes had 16 scheduled games, now have added the Detroit makeup date on March 27.
But the NHL trade deadline is Feb. 28. By that point, general manager Ron Francis will have decided if his team has real or imagined staying power.
Hurricanes at Penguins
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh