For NHL players, it’s nice to go into April and still be playing meaningful hockey games.
The Carolina Hurricanes are there, experiencing it. On Saturday, they play another one against the Dallas Stars.
“They’re fun,” Canes defenseman Justin Faulk said Saturday. “That’s why you play. You want to be in games that matter, right?
“We haven’t been in the playoffs in a long time. We have put together a pretty good string of games but we have to hope another team or two stumbles, too. We just need to worry about doing our part and we have been.”
The Canes (35-27-14) have used a 9-0-4 surge, points in a franchise-record 13 straight games, to stay in the playoff chase but there’s no room for slippage. Neither the Boston Bruins, who hold the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, nor the Tampa Bay Lightning — the two teams in front of the Canes — are showing any evidence of faltering.
The Canes were on the brink of a loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, but Jeff Skinner scored late in regulation and Noah Hanifin at 2:16 of overtime to pull out a 2-1 victory.
“There’s a little more pressure and it’s more intense, as you could tell in that game,” Faulk said. “But they’re fun and we’re excited to be in them.”
-- Goaltender Eddie Lack was back on the ice at Saturday’s morning skate and Alex Nedeljkovic was reassigned to the Florida Everblades of the ECHL.
Canes coach Bill Peters indicated Lack could play in the back-to-back set — Carolina is on the road against Pittsburgh on Sunday. Peters didn’t completely rule out Lack starting against the Stars, although Cam Ward was the first goalie off the ice and Lack stayed out for extra work.
Lack suffered a neck strain Monday in the overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings when the Wings’ Andreas Athanasiou crashed into him while scoring the game winner.
-- The Canes are 5-9 in games decided in overtime periods this season (2-5 in shootouts) and possessions in the three-on-three OTs are precious.
That made it interesting Thursday when Peters sent out rookie forward Sebastian Aho with defensemen Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin to start the OT.
Jordan Staal is 59 percent on draws this season and one of the NHL’s best in the circle. Aho is close to 47 percent on faceoffs but got the nod Thursday.
“I have more confidence him than he has in himself,” Peters said. “He comes back to the bench and says, ‘You want to put somebody out who can win the draw?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I did.’ And guess what he did?”
Aho won the opening draw against the Blue Jackets’ Alexander Wennberg.
“Just go play. Don’t think, just play,” Peters said. ”We wouldn’t put you out there if we didn’t have confidence in you.”
-- Peters didn’t make any changes to the lines or D-pairs from the Columbus game at the morning skate.
Jordan Staal was centering Aho and Elias Lindholm, Derek Ryan centered Skinner and Lee Stempniak, Victor Rask was at center with Joakim Nordstrom and Teuvo Teravainen, and Lucas Wallmark centered Phil Di Giuseppe and Brock McGinn.
The D-pairs were Slavin-Pesce, Hanifin-Faulk and Klas Dahlbeck-Matt Tennyson.