Red and Black Hockey
Two shutout games have given Carolina control of its own playoff destiny with two games left to play. On Wednesday night, the Hurricanes surprisingly shut out the visiting Detroit Red Wings 3-0. On Thursday night, the Atlanta Thrashers shut out the New York Rangers by the same score.
The Rangers have 91 standings points—two better than Carolina, and have just one game to play. They must win their last game against the Devils on Saturday AND get help from Carolina to make the playoffs. Carolina, on the other hand, can control their own fate. If they win their last two games, they’re in.
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On Sunday, Carolina had a chance to put their destiny into their own hands. Regardless of the outcome of the Rangers/Flyers game, if the Canes had beaten Buffalo in regulation, they would have moved ahead of Buffalo and into the playoff mix. More importantly, they would have put themselves in a situation where they could control their own playoff destiny. Things didn’t go well. They went badly. Not catastrophically bad, but it wasn’t good.
The Rangers won their game in a shootout, and that hurts the Canes. However, t’s potentially an advantage to the Canes that it was a shootout win. Carolina lost their own game to Buffalo, 2-1 in overtime. The consolation point is small consolation, but it might actually play a huge role on the final day of the season.
Carolina now finds themselves two points behind the Rangers and three behind the Sabres with three games remaining for each team. Although it isn’t a mathematical impossibility, catching the Sabres is extraordinarily improbable at this point. To catch the Rangers, Carolina’s “magic number” is eight. Any number of points that the Rangers fail to earn and points that the Hurricanes earn totaling eight will catapult Carolina over NYR.
After a great week for the Hurricanes, they’ve climbed out of a hole and are in a position to climb as high as seventh place on Sunday afternoon. With four games to play, including the huge matchup with the Sabres on Sunday afternoon, there’s just two points separating seventh from ninth. Depending on the outcome of that game and the outcome of the game between the Rangers and Flyers, Carolina might be pushed hard against the wall or they might be in seventh. Or somewhere in between.
There are a lot of different scenarios that could play out tomorrow. Some of them involve tiebreakers from which Carolina would benefit. While Carolina and Buffalo will each have three games remaining after Sunday, they’re both looking at that game as the most important game of the season.
There are about two dozen scenarios with the two games, and I was gonna outline how each of them would impact the standings. but after about five scenarios, my head was swimming. I’ll simplify it.
A week ago tonight, I gave last
rites to the Hurricanes after their home loss to the Lightning. They were five points back of eighth place with a tough week ahead of them. Since then, all the Canes have done is win three straight games while Buffalo and the Rangers lost. Suddenly, the Canes are just one point behind the eighth place Rangers and very much revitalized. On Saturday, the Canes got another huge win on the road against a hot Islanders team.
Carolina was behind 2-1 after 40 minutes, and this was exactly where the Isles wanted to be. They’re the third hottest team in the league since Christmas and they’d only lost one regulation game all season when leading after two. Joe Corvo, Erik Cole and Eric Staal had plenty to say about that as they each scored in the third to give the Canes a 4-2 win. Corvo had three points on the night and Cole had another game-winner. He’s been Mr. Clutch in the second half and is looking more like the Cole we knew from before the injury.
As I write, the Caps have just forced overtime against the Sabres, so Buffalo will be at least two points ahead of Carolina going into tomorrow’s enormous matchup at the RBC Center.
Here’s the video of the big hit from Tuomo Ruutu on Hal Gill which shattered glass in the RBC Center. The fans aren’t booing. They’re “Ruuuuu”-ing
On Wednesday night, the Hurricanes got a two huge standings points, and one of their few lopsided victories on the season. Rookie forward Jeff Skinner and rookie defenseman Jamie McBain each chipped in two goals to lead the way in a 6-2 pounding of the visiting Canadiens. Joni Pitkanen and Cory Stillman also scored for the Canes.
Meanwhile, at the HSBC Arena, the Sabres got a 1-0 shutout over the Rangers. This means that Carolina is still three points behind the Sabres (and now also three points behind the Rangers) with just five games to play. The Sabres have a slightly tougher road to hoe down the stretch, but the Canes can only concern themselves with their own games. The most important of the five remaining games is the home game against the Sabres on Sunday.
On Tuesday night, the Hurricanes got a boost to their slim playoff hopes, but there is an asterisk. The Sabres lost 4-3 in regulation to the Maple Leafs and the Hurricanes grabbed a huge 3-2 win on the road at Washington. This two-point gain puts Carolina just three points back of the Sabres, and Sunday’s showdown looks really huge right now. The only unfortunate thing is that Carolina’s win came via the shootout. Carolina has two fewer ROW wins than Buffalo, so as of right now, a potential standings tiebreaker would go to the Sabres.
Jussi Jokinen scored a power play marker in the second and Jeff Skinner scored a huge goal early in the third. In the shootout, Skinner scored in the top of the first. The Caps missed their first two shots, then Tuomo Ruutu iced it for the Canes with a successful shot in the top of the third.
Cam Ward made 38 saves to give him 2006 saves on the season. He’s just the sixth goaltender since the lockout to record more than 2000 saves in a single season.
While the Hurricanes are still clinging to an ever-so-thin chance that they’ll qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, things are going much better down on the farm. The Checkers had a productive week, going 3-0-0-1, climbing within one point of clinching a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs. During that four game span, Zach Boychuk tallied five goals and five assists. Two of those goals were game-winners. For his efforts, he was named the Reebok/AHL player of the week.
With five games remaining, any combination of one standings point gained by Charlotte OR lost by the Worcester Sharks would result in a guaranteed playoff spot for the Checkers. As of right now, Charlotte is third in the East division of the Eastern Conference. If the playoffs started today, they’d have to play defending Calder Cup champs Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals) in the first round. They’re hoping to avoid that, but anything can happen in the playoffs and the Chekers are playing really well right now.
The Clear Day rosters were announced early this month, and the Checkers clear day list has one glaring omission: Jerome Samson.
For the six previous seasons running, Carolina has had a lot of difficulty with injuries. They dealt with well over 200 man-games lost for all of those seasons and were over 300 for at least the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. There were catastrophic injuries to key players. There were season-ending surgeries. There were freak injuries. There were illnesses. There were so many different ways in which so many different players missed significant time. They had to rely heavily on the Albany River Rats to restock the team when they all went down with injury at the same time.
This season, miraculously, there have been very few injuries, and there was never more than one key player out at the same time. In years past, when the Canes would miss the playoffs, it was easy to lean on the excuse “well, they had a ridiculous amount of man-games lost” or “our team was almost entirely made up of AHL players” or just “we were decimated with injury”. This season, they can’t use that, and they’ll have to invent something else.
In years past, I used a picture of a pig for each player to mark the corresponding spot on the pig where the player was injured, and I tallied the man-games lost by each player that way. I’m dispensing with that this season, and I’ll just go with a short list of who was injured and for how long.
On Friday night, the Hurricanes were again in “the most important game of the season”, and they emerged with a huge 4-3 regulation win over the Lightning. Jeff Skinner scored his 26th of the season, Eric Staal scored his 30th and Erik Cole added two. Cam ward made 18 saves. Unfortunately for the Canes slim playoff hopes, Buffalo also won its game. With eight games remaining, the Hurricanes remain three points behind the eighth place Sabres.
For the first time since the Truman administration, the Hurricanes tallied two power play goals in the same game. The power play has been one of many weak points for them this whole season, and it will probably be the one thing that we blame if/when the Hurricanes end up on the outside of the playoff mix.
Carolina has now won three games in a row, but the harsh reality is that they’re going to have to be blazing hot down the stretch. “Warm” won’t cut it. They’ll probably need to get twelve of the sixteen remaining points available. Every game matters, and they’d like some outside help from the Sabres, or even the Rangers. The Canes are five points back of the Rangers with a game in hand.
About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.