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Gameday: Facing Elimination, Canes Not Worried About Tomorrow

Friday, 03.30.2012 / 12:30 PM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Michael Smith
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Gameday: Facing Elimination, Canes Not Worried About Tomorrow
Mathematics dictates that the Carolina Hurricanes could be officially eliminated from the playoff race tonight.

Michael Smith
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But don’t tell the team that.

The Canes know the cards are stacked against them, and with five games remaining, they could just as easily sleepwalk their way into a better draft position. Judging by the tempo of the morning skate and the mood of the locker room, however, that isn’t going to happen.

“We’re a team right now that’s confident. We’re having fun,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “It’s a good energy around here. The best thing is that there has been a lot of fight with our group for the last few months. They believe that they could stay in the race, and they’ve been battling every night.”

So much so that a win tonight over the Winnipeg Jets would vault the Hurricanes into 10th place in the Eastern Conference, a position the team hasn’t seen since the start of the season.

But even if that happens, if the Buffalo Sabres defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight, the Canes’ surge to 8th place would be mathematically halted, sealing a fate that has been looming for weeks. But to the Hurricanes’ credit, they haven’t let that slow them down. In fact, they’ve used it as motivation.

“Until we’re mathematically out, we’ve just got to keep pushing and do what we have to do,” Muller said. “Our guys are still going, still pushing. We’ve just got to control what we can control.”

What the team can control is who takes home the two points up for grabs tonight in the sixth and final meeting between these two divisional rivals. After the Jets won the first three meetings of the season, the Canes have rattled off two straight victories, most recently a come-from-behind 4-3 win at MTS Centre on March 18.

Eric Staal was a key force in that game, as he scored two goals and had the assist and a beauty of a screen on Chad LaRose’s game-winning goal with under two minutes left in regulation.

It’s no coincidence that the Hurricanes’ climb in the standings has been paired with Staal’s resurgence in offensive production. Since Jan. 1, Staal ranks tied for fifth in the League in scoring with 43 points (14g, 29a). He has 9 points (4g, 5a) in his last eight games, recording multiple points in three of those games, the Winnipeg game being one of them.

“From Christmas on, he’s been one of the top three forwards in the NHL,” Muller said.

Staal averages over 21 minutes of ice time per game, and that number has been enhanced by a minute or two of penalty kill time each game. In the last 10 games, the Canes’ penalty kill is 28-for-30 (93.3%).

“He’s made our power play better, he’s been one of our top penalty killers, he plays against all the best defenseman, five-on-five he’s a plus player and he takes key face-offs,” Muller said. “I don’t know what more you can ask from your top guy.”

Staal is one of just eight players in the League who has scored 25 goals in each season since the lockout; he currently has 23.

Cam Ward will get the nod in net tonight, his sixth straight start. Ward has recorded at least 30 wins in four of his six seasons with the team; during the other two, he was the back-up goaltender (2005-06) and suffered through a number of injuries (2009-10). Now in his seventh season, Ward is two wins shy of 30.

Muller said that Brian Boucher will get a start either Saturday night against New Jersey or Tuesday in Ottawa, a decision that will be made following tonight’s game.

“We’re just focused on today. I’m not really worried about tomorrow,” Muller said. “Our focus is on winning tonight.”



SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Skinner 82 28 23 -2 51
V. Rask 80 21 27 -6 48
J. Staal 82 20 28 6 48
E. Lindholm 82 11 28 -23 39
J. Faulk 64 16 21 -22 37
J. Nordstrom 71 10 14 1 24
A. Nestrasil 55 9 14 4 23
R. Nash 64 9 13 -5 22
N. Hanifin 79 4 18 -14 22
J. Slavin 63 2 18 1 20
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 23 17 10 .909 2.41
E. Lack 12 14 6 .901 2.81