Red and Black Hockey
Entries with the tag: playoff picture
On Saturday night, the Hurricanes went to the Prudential Center, where the host Devils had won 11 games in a row. The Hurricanes were on a five game winning streak and the Devils were on a three game losing streak. Carolina got the job done, earning a 2-1 regulation victory and moving oh so close to securing a playoff position.
For the sixth game in a row, the story was Cam Ward. Not the two goals in the third period. Not the great defensive coverage. Cam Ward. Martin Brodeur did make 46 saves compared to just 31 by Ward, but there’s no reason to deny the recent greatness of Ward. He’s allowed just five total goals in his last four starts. In that span, his save percentage is a ridiculous .960 and a GAA of 1.24. His best highlights in this game were in the second period, and they were both against Zach Parise. One was an explosive kick save and a ten-bell diving blocker save. Brodeur will get the accolades for the amount of shots he faced, but Ward kept the Canes in it with his sensational play in the second.
On Saturday night, the Hurricanes used a playoff-like atmosphere to defeat the SE leading Capitals 4-1, propelling themselves into sixth place with 85 standings points and eight games remaining. Eighth place Montréal is four points back with two games in hand while ninth place Florida is five points behind Carolina with two games in hand.
Carolina took care of their own business, winning their third straight game and their eight straight home game. Meanwhile, they got some help from other teams in the hunt. Les Habitants did their part by losing to the Leafs and the Kitties did theirs by losing to Columbus. It would have been nicer if Buffalo had beaten Rangers, but at least it wasn’t a three-point game.
The Canes got three goals from the defense including a 190-footer by Joe Corvo into an empty net. The defense also did a great job of denying the middle of the ice, which makes Cam Ward’s job a lot easier. Señor Hot Stick had seven shots on goal, but I don’t remember any of them being great chances.
On Friday night, the Hurricanes took care of their own business and also got some outside help to get them that much closer to qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs. They needed a come-from-behind 5-4 win against the lowly Islanders, but they got it done. The outside help came in the form of a regulation loss by the Sabres, who still have two games in hand on the Canes but are now seven points back. The idle Florida Panthers have two games in hand and are three points behind Carolina, who has temporarily climbed into sixth place. More importantly, though, the Kitties trail Carolina by three in the wins column
Carolina has now won seven home games in a row and will conclude a three-game homestand on Saturday night against the dreaded Capitals.
The other day, I wrote about how the cutoff for the playoffs is likely to be 93 points and that Carolina would need to steal a couple of games down the stretch to get there. They did exactly that on Wednesday with an impressive 4-2 win over the visiting New Jersey Devils. Eric Staal and Sergei Samsonov each scored one and Anton Babchuk—the unlikeliest of all heroes—scored two power play marks to pace the Canes.
St. Marty got his big win on Tuesday night in Jersey, becoming the winningest goalie of all time. I figured that it would probably lead to a night off for him, and it did. Make no mistake, though. Carolina didn’t win the game because Kevin Weekes was in nets. In fact, Shady Eighty was really solid. Particularly in the first period. The Hurricanes took advantage of favorable matchups and a tired team who played an emotional game the previous night. They parlayed that into a great night for the power play units.
Carolina has now won six home games in a row and will have seven of their last ten games at the big ATM. This race will surely come down to the last day, but for now the Hurricanes are in the playoff bubble.
I’ve just taken a couple of days away from the blog, as I am forced to do twice a year when work puts everything else on hold for an entire weekend. Now, back to the hockey business.
Carolina has eleven games remaining and they are clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot. Both Florida and Buffalo, who are chasing, have games in hand and could easily catch the Canes. There is a possibility that the Rangers or even Montréal could collapse down the stretch and fall out of the race. However, Carolina should keep their focus on taking care of their own business.
I figure they’ll need 95 points to guarantee a spot in the playoffs, which means they’ll have to earn 16 out of 22 points down the stretch. 7-2-2. 8-3-0. 6-1-4. Whatever. They may be able to do it with 93, but either way, it’s going to be tough. They’re going to have to win, and it isn’t going to be easy. Of their 11 remaining games, three are against the Devils, and two of those are in the swamp. They will have home games against playoff teams Washington, Rangers and the smokin’ hot Penguins. Sure, they have two home games against the lowly Islanders, but that doesn’t do much to soften the blow of having to play three against the Devils.
Carolina is, without a doubt, going to have to “steal” some of their final games and they won’t be able to give any away.
On Saturday night, the Hurricanes squandered a two-goal third period lead and ended up losing 5-3 to the Thrashers. Carolina had already gotten some outside help when Florida and Buffalo both lost, but they missed the golden chance to climb into the playoff bubble by giving up four third period goals.
Now, the Canes are faced with a tough task. Starting Tuesday, they will play seven games in twelve days. Five of the games will be on the road. Five is also the number of playoff teams included in that stretch. It will be imperative that the Canes get no less than nine of the 14 points. One of the main obstacles to that endeavor is that two of those games are against the division leading red-hot Capitals, and both of those games are on the road. They’ve only lost seven home games. Another one of those road games is against the Blackhawks, who are currently fourth in the West and have only lost five regulation games at home. The flip side of that is that they’ve also lost six home games in overtime.
After this important stretch, the canes will have eight of their final eleven at home. Seven of the final eleven are presently in the playoffs. It’s not going to be easy.
Carolina will visit Atlanta tonight and have an excellent chance to move inside the playoff bubble. The Panthers have already lost today, which means that Carolina can jump inside the bubble with a win regardless of what Buffalo does on Long Island.
Brandon Sutter, who scored three goals during a two-game “conditioning stint” with Albany was supposed to be recalled for tonight’s game, but inclement weather caused his flight to be canceled. This means he’ll stay with the Rats for their first home game since the bus crash.
The Hurricanes will have a chance to jump as high as sixth place tonight, so Caniacs will do a lot of channel changing during teevee timeouts. The important games are Buffalo @ Islanders and Colorado @ Rangers.
Sergei Samsonov, who is dealing with an “upper body” injury will be a game-time decision for the second straight game.
As we hit the all-star break, it’s about time to start seriously thinking about the playoff picture. In the East, it’s clear that Boston, Washington, New Jersey, Montréal, Rangers and Philadelphia will be there. As of today, Buffalo and Carolina are in, while Florida and Pittsburgh are just barely on the outside of that playoff bubble.
While Toronto and Tampa are less than ten points out of a spot as of today, I don’t think they’ll be contenders come April. After viewing the remaining schedules for the four teams I figure to be the last contenders, I’m predicting that the final two spots will be held by Pittsburgh and Carolina.
I’ll start with Buffalo, currently in seventh, and work my way down to the tenth place Penguins.