Canes bounce back, beat Sabres
A word of caution for Carolina Hurricanes fans including Gov. Roy Cooper, who tweeted he is “making room in the budget” for playoff tickets:
While probability charts are showing the Canes’ playoff chances hovering above 90 percent, what’s left of the schedule shows just one team -- the New Jersey Devils -- that has a record below “NHL .500.” And the Devils have never been an easy out for the Canes.
With the regular-season finish line in sight, the Canes have 11 games remaining and will play three of the last four on the road. As Jordan Staal said Saturday after the 4-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres, “The only thing that matters is getting the two points.” Keep winning games and collecting the points and there will be a reward -- a place in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Canes (39-25-7) have their grip on an Eastern Conference wild-card playoff spot. It’s all in their hands. Here’s a look at the opponents in those last 11 games:
The Canes have two games left against a team they’re chasing in the Metropolitan Division, on Tuesday at PNC Arena and then March 31 at Pittsburgh. The Pens’ Evgeni Malkin is injured but Sidney Crosby is the consummate leader.
The game this season: The teams split the first two games, the Pens winning 2-0 in Raleigh (Dec. 22) as Matt Murray had 39 saves, and the Canes winning 4-0 in Pittsburgh (Feb. 5) as Curtis McElhinney turned in a 23-save shutout.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Canes face the Lightning on Thursday at PNC Arena. The Lightning are the NHL’s best team. Enough said.
The games: The Lightning have won both games, both in Tampa. Tampa Bay took a 4-2 victory on Oct. 16 and a 3-1 win on Jan. 10, scoring all three goals in the third and ending a five-game winning streak by the Canes.
The Wild, coming to PNC Arena on Saturday, are fighting for a playoff spot in the Western Conference and Wild general manager Paul Fenton has been hammered over the decision to trade Nino Niederreiter to Carolina for Victor Rask in January. Niederreiter can now have his say, on the ice.
The game: The Canes capped a 4-0-1 start to the season with a 5-4 win at Minnesota on Oct. 13, Sebastian Aho getting the overtime winner.
While Tampa Bay has the best record in the league, the Caps have 91 points and like Tampa Bay is 8-2-0 in their past 10 games. The Canes face the Caps twice in three days -- at Washington on March 26 and at PNC Arena on March 28.
The results: The Canes and Caps have not played since Dec. 27, the Caps winning 3-1 at home. The Caps also won Dec. 14 at PNC Arena, 6-5, in one of the Canes’ rare shootout games this season. Aho had a shorthanded goal and power-play score in the second game but was not used in the shootout.
The game Sunday could be a pivotal one. The Canadiens, after a 2-0 loss Saturday to the Chicago Blackhawks, sat below the playoff cutline, three points behind Columbus and four behind the Canes.
The results: The Canes won 2-1 at the Bell Centre on Nov. 27 as McElhinney had a career-high 48 saves -- 21 in the third period -- and Rask and Trevor van Riemsdyk scored. The Habs then won 6-4 on Dec. 13 in Montreal.
There are two games with the Flyers, including the regular-season finale in Philadelphia on April 6. The Canes don’t want it to come down to that one, with a win-or-else scenario in Philly.
The results: The Canes, after a mostly miserable December, began righting their season with consecutive wins over the Flyers on Dec. 31 at PNC Arena and then 5-3 at the Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 3 as Teuvo Teravainen had two goals and an assist. Carolina was 15-17-5 before the New Years’ Eve game, 24-8-2 after it.
Toronto Maple Leafs
This is always an unpredictable game and should be again, especially in Toronto. The Maple Leafs’ top-end talent is scary good and John Tavares has feasted on the Canes during his career.
The results: The Canes played both games at PNC Arena, winning 5-2 on Nov. 21 with 11 players on the scoresheet and McElhinney making 30 saves against the team that waived him. The Canes then lost 4-1 on Dec. 11 as Justin Williams’ power-play score was the Canes’ only goal.
New Jersey Devils
The April 4 game will be the last regular-season game at home for the Canes, who are hoping it won’t be their last home game.
The results: The Canes have lost two of three to the Devils. The Canes won the first 2-1 (Nov. 18) at PNC Arena -- Williams and Micheal Ferland with the goals -- and then were shut out 2-0 (Dec. 29) by Mackenzie Blackwood.The Devils won again 3-2 at the Prudential Center on Feb. 10 as Marcus Johansson scored twice for New Jersey.