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Six games left. Will the Canes make it to the playoffs?

Hurricanes battle Capitals in NHL action

Check out photos from the Carolina Hurricanes' game against the Washington Capitals Tuesday night, March 26, 2019.
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Check out photos from the Carolina Hurricanes' game against the Washington Capitals Tuesday night, March 26, 2019.

Carolina Hurricanes captain Justin Williams says he’s no out-of-town scoreboard watcher, even with the regular season so close to an end and playoff positions in the balance.

“You can’t look for help,” Williams said Tuesday. “That’s not the way to do it. You take care of your own business.”

But it will be hard to ignore the NHL scores Thursday. The Canes, after a 4-1 road loss Tuesday to the Washington Capitals, must play them again at PNC Arena. The Montreal Canadiens and Columbus Blue Jackets, the two teams just below the Canes in the Eastern Conference standings -- the Habs in the second wild-card playoff spot, the Blue Jackets just below the playoff cut line -- face off against each other.

When the Canes beat the Minnesota Wild and Canadiens in back-to-back games last weekend, one hockey web site, MoneyPuck.com, pegged their playoff chances at 98.13 percent. A lock, yes?

After the loss to the Caps, it was 92.36 percent. Still very good, but a trend the Canes obviously don’t want to continue, not with just six games left.

The final six: Washington, Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh, at Toronto, New Jersey and at Philadelphia.

How’s this for tight? After Tuesday’s games, the Canes (42-27-7) held the first wild-card spot with 91 points. The Canadiens (41-28-8) had 90 points and the Blue Jackets (42-30-4) have 88.

Three teams, two spots. Somebody is going to get left out in the end. Better tighten those seat belts.

“We know how close it is and we know the situation we’re in,” Canes defenseman Dougie Hamilton said after the Caps game. “It feels like every team around us is winning.”

They did Tuesday. While the Canes were giving up three goals in the third period, the Canadiens were ripping the Florida Panthers 6-1 and the Blue Jackets shutting out the New York Islanders 4-0.

The Canes, playing their third game in four days, showed little energy against the Caps, the Metropolitan Division leaders, and got only a second-period goal from Hamilton, his 15th.

AP_19086080874548.jpg
Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov (92), of Russia, skates with the puck against Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk (27) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, March 26, 2019, in Washington. The Capitals won 4-1. (AP Photo/Nick Wass) Nick Wass AP

“They were good and we were bad,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “Put those two together and we really had no chance.”

Caps defenseman John Carlson, who scored for a 3-1 lead, said Washington was able to stay patient, trust the game plan and “not try to make home-run plays.” The Caps waited for the Canes to make mistakes, then pounced. And Ovechkin was Ovechkin.

With the score tied 1-1 in the third, Ovechkin loaded up a shot from the top of the slot and beat goalie Petr Mrazek. It was Ovechkin’s 49th goal of the season and had the fans at Capital One Arena chanting that they wanted 50. Ovechkin said he heard it but shrugged it off.

“Next game,” Ovechkin said. That would be Thursday against the Canes, although Ovechkin didn’t seem to be guaranteeing a 50th at PNC Arena.

Caps coach Todd Reirden said the two games had something of a playoff format feel -- one at home, the other on the road against the same team -- and would be “good practice” for what’s to come next month with the Caps on the verge of clinching a playoff berth.

“We know they’ll make some adjustments, as are we, and that’s the fun part of it for the coaching staff,” Reirden said of Thursday’s game.

It’s not fun for Brind’Amour and his staff. It will be another pressure game, as will the rest.

“We’ve been pushing these guys so long and hard,” Brind’Amour said Tuesday.

The next six games will prove if the Canes, out of the playoffs since 2009, have enough left.

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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