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Playoffs in March

Thursday, 03.3.2011 / 11:35 AM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Paul Branecky
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Playoffs in March
There are regular season games that have that “playoff atmosphere,” but tonight’s contest at the RBC Center figures to be as close to the real thing as one can get.

Paul Branecky
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The Hurricanes’ remaining three-game series against the Buffalo Sabres could very well determine which team makes the postseason and which team does not. Carolina currently holds a two-point lead over Buffalo for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. It could either extend that lead or give it up to the Sabres, who hold the tiebreaker in terms of having played two fewer games, depending on the outcome of tonight’s game at the RBC Center.

“Both teams are looking at this as an opportunity to move ahead,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice.

“Nothing needs to be said,” said Staal in terms of providing any extra motivation as the team’s captain. “The energy is going to be here.”

With the Sabres holding games in hand over the Hurricanes, the surest way for the home team to stay ahead of them is winning these head-to-head match-ups and remaining in control of their own destiny. After tonight’s game, the squads will meet again on March 15 in Buffalo and April 3 at the RBC Center.

“This is a team behind us that we’ve got to beat,” said Staal.

There is still a chance that both the Hurricanes and Sabres could end up in the playoffs. Most notably, the New York Rangers sit just one point ahead of the Hurricanes, meaning that Carolina could finish the night in seventh with the right outcomes in their own game and the Rangers’ simultaneous match-up with the Minnesota Wild. That two-seed swing is the biggest they’ve faced since the season’s opening months.

“Obviously there are a lot of games left, but it’s an opportunity to get some space and climb the ladder,” said Staal.

Though he’s approaching his personal record of 28 consecutive starts set last season, Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward, who will make his 24th in a row tonight, doesn’t figure to get too many nights off at this point in the season. Instead, the team has been giving him a break from practices, as they did on Wednesday when Ward was allowed to skip the team’s on-ice session on the heels of his 41-save performance against Florida the night before.

“He sees a lot of shots in games,” said Maurice. “He just doesn’t need to see them in the 35-minute shootarounds.”

If he feels up to it, which he should, Ward will also start the second half of the Hurricanes’ back-to-back set, which continues in Chicago on Friday. That game will be a challenge in itself, with the Blackhawks, winners of a season-high six straight, in a postseason dogfight of their own in an extremely tight Western Conference.

“We’ve had the opportunity to play back-to-backs against a rested team on a number of occasions this year, and we’re going to have to be very good,” said Maurice, noting that Chicago is off Thursday night.

Maurice said that he may have considered starting Justin Peters in one of the upcoming games, but a four-day break between the Chicago match-up and Wednesday’s game with Atlanta helped ease concerns about Ward’s workload.

“If we were playing Tuesday we may have to re-look at that, but we’re not, so we don’t,” he said.

With the Hurricanes boasting a healthy lineup, defenseman Derek Joslin will be a healthy scratch for the second straight game since Monday’s acquisition of Bryan Allen from Florida.

According to the Buffalo News, leading scorer Thomas Vanek, who has 21 points in 19 career games against Carolina and 27 points in his last 27 games this season, is expected to play through an ankle injury suffered in Tuesday’s win over the Rangers. He missed Wednesday’s practice.

Sabres defenseman Jordan Leopold, one of two Buffalo blue liners with 10 or more goals along with Tyler Myers, is doubtful with an upper-body injury.


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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 53 40 9 4 175 120 84
2 FLA 54 32 16 6 150 122 70
3 NYR 54 31 18 5 153 135 67
4 NYI 53 29 18 6 150 131 64
5 DET 54 28 18 8 136 132 64
6 BOS 54 29 19 6 159 148 64
7 TBL 53 29 20 4 140 127 62
8 PIT 53 27 19 7 138 135 61
9 NJD 55 27 21 7 122 123 61
10 MTL 55 27 24 4 147 145 58
11 PHI 53 24 20 9 127 138 57
12 CAR 54 24 21 9 130 142 57
13 OTT 56 25 25 6 157 173 56
14 CBJ 56 22 28 6 140 173 50
15 BUF 55 21 28 6 125 151 48
16 TOR 53 19 25 9 122 149 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Faulk 54 15 19 -13 34
J. Skinner 54 19 12 -3 31
V. Rask 52 12 19 0 31
J. Staal 54 12 19 8 31
K. Versteeg 53 10 21 1 31
E. Staal 54 9 21 0 30
E. Lindholm 54 8 16 -9 24
A. Nestrasil 47 7 12 0 19
J. Nordstrom 43 5 9 2 14
R. Hainsey 54 3 11 -11 14
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 15 11 6 .908 2.38
E. Lack 9 10 3 .901 2.74
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