Carolina Hurricanes forward Lee Stempniak, in his long NHL career, has been on playoff teams with Arizona, Pittsburgh and Winnipeg.
Question: are the Canes a legit playoff contender, or is too much being made of their chances, sitting five points out of playoff position with nine games left?
“I think we feel good about ourselves,” Stempniak said Monday after the Canes’ morning skate at PNC Arena. “I mean, I wish we had a few more points and played better earlier in the year and were sitting in a better position, but we’re probably playing our best hockey right now, at this point.
“That’s what it’s all about, to be playing your best hockey entering the postseason. It feels like playoff hockey right now in terms of having to go out and find ways to win games and just give ourselves a fighting chance to get in.”
The Boston Bruins, before Monday’s games, held the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot with 84 points. The New York Islanders had 82 points, the Tampa Bay Lightning 81 and the Canes 79.
The Canes face the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night, then again Tuesday in a rare back-to-back caused by the postponed game Dec. 19, when the PNC Arena ice surface was deemed unplayable after a refrigerant leak forced the ice temperature to rise before the game.
“We’re playing a pretty complete game right now,” Stempniak said. “We’re getting contributions from a lot of different guys and both goalies are playing great. I think we’re certainly capable of being a playoff team but there’s a lot ahead still.”
— After being the winning goalie in the last two road games, Eddie Lack will be the starter Monday against the Wings as the Canes begin a four-game homestand.
Lack stopped 47 of 49 shots in wins over Montreal and New Jersey last week, improving his record to 7-5-2, his goals-against average to 2.48 and save percentage to .906.
The Canes’ lines at the skate had Jordan Staal at center with Phil Di Giuseppe and Teuvo Teravainen, Victor Rask centering Sebastian Aho and Elias Lindholm, Derek Ryan at center with Jeff Skinner and Stempniak, and Lucas Wallmark centering Joakim Nordstrom and Brock McGinn.
The defensive pairs were Jaccob Slavin-Brett Pesce, Noah Hanifin-Justin Faulk and Klas Dahlbeck-Ryan Murphy.
— The Canes on Monday reassigned right wing Valentin Zykov to the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League.
Zykov had a memorable two games for the Canes, but for different reasons. He made his NHL debut March 9 against the New York Rangers, scoring his first NHL goal. Two days later, against Toronto, he suffered an upper-body injury early in the game that has since sidelined him.
Zykov is third among Checkers skaters in goals (15) and points (30) this season.
— Jeff Skinner talked Monday about the Canes’ playoff chase and his recent scoring binge before being asked the question, “Do you know who Luke Maye is?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said, smiling. “I knew who he was before. That was some cool ending. That was pretty fun to watch.”
Maye has had everybody talking since his last-second shot Sunday to beat Kentucky and send North Carolina to the Final Four.