Hard to believe it was only a month ago the Carolina Hurricanes went into Columbus with a chance to move into the eighth playoff spot with a win: Jan. 17, 2017. That will go down as the high-water mark of the season. It seems like not that long ago, and it seems like forever ago.
“It’s not fun when you’re falling in the standings,” Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner said. “Time doesn’t really go by quickly.”
The Hurricanes lost that night. Ever since, it’s all slipped away, game by game, loss by gut-wrenching loss. If their playoff hopes weren’t extinguished that night – and a better team, a playoff team, would have taken that chance by the throat and never looked back – they’re effectively finished now.
After they were only able to manage a point against the NHL’s worst team Friday in an overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche, they couldn’t even manage a goal Sunday against a goalie who was on waivers six weeks ago – Curtis McElhinney, the latest in a long line of backup goalies the Hurricanes have faced this season.
So while this 4-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs is merely the latest slump in a 3-8-1 skid since the Hurricanes were close enough to the playoffs to sense them, there was also a sense of finality about it. Coming off their union-mandated off week, the Hurricanes had a chance to make up some ground against the woeful Avs and the playoff-chasing Leafs. Instead, they continued to slip farther off the pace.
The Hurricanes may not have scored, but at least the fans who came out to watch the Hurricanes collapse in the third period Sunday got to see Auston Matthews score what may end up being one of the best goals of the season in the second, dragging Phil Di Giuseppe to the net and tucking the puck between Cam Ward’s pads while tumbling to the ice.
How different it would be if the Hurricanes had been able to get over the line in Columbus, looking down on the teams chasing them instead of up at the many mountains to cross. Too many, now.
With the trade deadline less than two weeks away, it’s time to dump what’s dumpable. Give Ron Hainsey, the NHL’s all-time record-holder with 890 games played without a playoff appearance, a shot at the postseason he won’t get here. It doesn’t really matter what you can get for him. Just get something. Same goes for Jay McClement and Viktor Stalberg (the latter actually one of the Hurricanes’ better players of late). No reason to hold on to expiring contracts now. Convert them into assets, however minimal those assets may be.
This group has shown it’s not postseason-capable, not now anyway. Maybe it will be next year, if suitable reinforcements are obtained, and many are needed. They could have used some during this skid, when the Hurricanes have had too many no-shows.
“We’re not a team that can lean on a few players,” Jordan Staal said Sunday. “Everyone needs to play, and play well, for us to win.”
Victor Rask, in the first year of a six-year contract extension, hasn’t had a point in that 3-8-1 stretch. Same goes for Derek Ryan, a healthy scratch Sunday. Lee Stempniak has one goal in that span, Skinner and Teuvo Teravainen three points each. The third pairing of Noah Hanifin and Klas Dahlbeck was an unmitigated disaster Sunday.
Still, the Hurricanes had enough talent to get into the conversation. Just not enough to stay there. There are still 27 games to go, but after Sunday they’ll each mean less and less. Their season peaked a month ago. It’s just a matter of waiting for the end now.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock