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Can the Canes make the playoffs? Yes, maybe ... Here’s what they need to do.

Canes back at it

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour discusses jumping back into the season after the All-Star break and bye week with a game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Feb. 1, 2019.
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Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour discusses jumping back into the season after the All-Star break and bye week with a game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Feb. 1, 2019.

There are any number of analytics that can be used to assess the Carolina Hurricanes and where they stand as they jump back into the season on Friday.

But the simple math is that the Canes have 32 games left to play. The Columbus Blue Jackets hold the second wild-card playoff position in the Eastern Conference with 59 points, five ahead of the Canes, after Thursday’s NHL games.

If recent history is any indication, and it should be, the Canes will need about 95 or 96 points to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2009. They’ll need something like a 20-10-2 finish.

“You don’t have to be an idiot to look at the standings and know we don’t have any room for error,” Canes captain Justin Williams said Thursday. “We’re a team that’s building something here and to build something you need to have some successes, and our next step is making the playoffs. That’s not our end goal but it is one of the stepping stones along the way.”

The Canes (24-20-6) will have to do it without center Jordan Staal, who has not played since Dec. 22 because of concussion symptoms. Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Thursday he’s hopeful Staal will be able to return this season but noted Staal has not been skating.

The Canes were back on the ice for practice Thursday afternoon at PNC Arena. After the All-Star Game break, after their mandated bye week, it’s finally time to play again -- at home Friday against the Vegas Golden Knights (29-19-4).

“It felt like forever,” Brind’Amour said. “Nice to right get back at it.”

Here are five things that need to happen for the Canes to make the playoffs:

Pick up where they left off

The Canes were 9-3-1 in the 13 games before the break, capped by a 2-0-1 road trip to Western Canada that ended with a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 23.

“We were in a pretty good spot (and) we were playing probably our best hockey of the year,” Brind’Amour said. “We need to make sure we get back to that commitment and pace of play.

“We understand our situation as a group. We’ve been battling here for a long time and we’re still clawing to get ourselves back into the thick of the race. The good part is we understand what we have to do to play and get those wins.”

That begins with the Vegas game. As forward Jordan Martinook said, “Any time you can rest some nagging aches and pains and get that mental refresh is good, but we’ve got to look at the standings and look where we are and ramp it up right away.”

No December repeat

December was a terrible month for the Canes -- there’s no other way to put it. A 4-8-1 record accounted for just nine points as Carolina dropped further behind in the standings.

The Canes were shut out three times and held to one goal in four other games in being outscored 40-28. Carolina was held without a power-play goal 10 times in that stretch -- going 0-33 in those 10 games.

In the end, December may cost Carolina a playoff spot. The flip side: there’s still 32 games to overcome one bad month.

Healthy goalies

Goaltenders Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney both have missed games with injuries this season, and Brind’Amour believes the long break should help McElhinney’s knee soreness.

“We gave him a few extra days before the break just to kind of make sure he’d come back 100 percent,” Brind’Amour said.

Canucks Hurricanes Hockey(2).JPG
Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Curtis McElhinney (35) blocks a shot as Vancouver Canucks’ Bo Horvat (53) and Carolina Hurricanes’ Justin Faulk (27) look for a rebound during the first period Oct. 9, 2018, in Raleigh, N.C. Karl B DeBlaker AP

During a five-game win streak in early January, the two goalies were alternating games and trading off wins, putting together a string of quality starts. The Canes need them back in that kind of groove again.

Aho being Aho

While Williams is the captain, the Canes are becoming Sebastian Aho’s team.

Aho is now an NHL All-Star, returning from San Jose, Calif., and All-Star Weekend with a winner’s share of the $1 million payoff to the Metropolitan Division team.

“I don’t think he’s going to have to worry about money, ever,” Brind’Amour joked Thursday. “But it was fun to watch him. I was happy for him to have success and really to submerse himself with the best players. I think he’ll come out of there feeling that ‘Hey, I’m not that far off from these guys’ and that’s what you want. He can be one of those guys.”

Aho is on pace for 93 or 94 points and leads the Canes with 22 goals and 35 assists. He’ll need to continue that pace. No lulls. Be the star.

Carolina Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho, who had his second career hat trick in a 6-3 win over the Nashville Predators, talks about his goals, Micheal Ferland's fight and being named to the NHL All-Star Game after the game Jan. 13, 2019.

Help at the deadline

If the Canes are buyers and not sellers at the NHL’s Feb. 25 trade deadline, they could use another proven scorer. Trading Victor Rask to Minnesota for Nino Niederreiter was almost larcenous for Carolina, and the Canes may not get that lucky again, but they could use a forward who can score.

Forward Nino Niederreiter joined the Carolina Hurricanes for the morning skate Jan. 18, 2019 at PNC Arena and discussed his trade to the Canes from the Minnesota Wild.

Canes general manager Don Waddell and the Wild’s Paul Fenton already had some long discussions, so there might be more on that end. Eric Staal? OK, a long shot but the Wild could be looking to move the former Canes captain, who scored 42 goals last season and has 17 this year. He’d be back with brother Jordan and reunited with Williams, a teammate from the Canes’ 2006 Cup run.

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In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.


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