The Carolina Hurricanes are right on the fringe of making the playoffs. With key match ups in front of them, its time to show they are contenders and not pretenders.
The playoff race in the Eastern Conference is heating up. With so many teams vying for wild card spots, the Carolina Hurricanes are going to have to separate themselves from the pack. To do so, they must finish strong in the second half of January.
The Canes have 8 games left this month, 5 of which are at home, which has been a place incredibly kind to the team the past few months. In those 7 contests, the Hurricanes will face some of conference’s elite as well as some games that must be marked down as wins. With stiff competition and some trap games, the Hurricanes immediate stretch might be the most important of the season so far.
If the club wants to be playoff extra hockey come April time, it is vital the team keep their foot on the gas for these coming weeks. Should Carolina stay hot and win a majority of these games, they stand a great chance of making the playoffs. Keeping this in mind, let’s take a look at the road ahead.
Eyes On Isles
The Must Wins:
Currently, the Canes are enjoying a successful home stand. Two quality wins over Boston and Columbus have helped position the Hurricanes within striking distance of the playoffs. While the tougher games are behind them, Carolina cannot be caught sleeping against supposedly inferior teams in Buffalo and the New York Islanders.
Both teams will be coming into Raleigh hungry for wins. Especially the Sabres. They are currently riding a 2 game winning streak after thrashing the Flyers 4-1. They play in Tampa tonight so they could be even hotter when the come to visit. Second year player Sam Reinhart had 3 points against the Fly Guys and will be looking for more. In the other game, the Isles will be looking to turn their awful road record around. They lost the front end of a home and home with Florida, but probably should have won the game. The Hurricanes must come to play get these wins when their supposed to.
The Metro’s Best:
Once the Hurricanes end their home stand, they bounce between the road and home with 4 pivotal games in the Metropolitan Division. Half of the those games are against the Blue Jackets in Columbus; one on Tuesday and the other next Saturday. Carolina got the better of Columbus in their most recent meeting, but bad goaltending from the Jackets back-up was a big bonus from a Canes perspective. With likely Sergei Bobrosky in net, it is going to be much harder to beat the Jackets on the road twice.
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In between the two Columbus games is a home game against Pittsburgh. The Pens always seem to play well against the Canes and no exception should be made this time. In their only meeting this season, Carolina jumped out to an early lead but couldn’t hold off the Pens offensive assault, losing 3-2. Both teams skate fast and it should be another close game. More so than the other games, this one will serve as a benchmark for where the Canes are as a team.
Two Monday’s from now, the Hurricanes are travelling up to Washington DC for a date with the Caps. Even though they occupy a wild card spot, the Caps are one of the best teams in the East. Alex Ovechkin and company dismantled Pittsburgh last night 5-2. It just shows how good the division is. This will be another stern test for Carolina.
Closing out the month, the schedule gets easier, but arguably more important. Before the All-Star Game in Los Angeles commences, the Canes will play the All-Game hosts, the LA Kings. The Kings hold the last wild card spot in the West despite having less points than Carolina. It will be important that Carolina goes into the all-star break in winning form.
Finally, the Hurricanes close out January with a home match up against the Philadelphia Flyers. Philly stands directly in Carolina’s way into the postseason and this opportunity to gain points on their Metro rival will be vital. This is a must win for both teams. Hopefully well rested coming out of the all-star break, the Hurricanes will look to solidify their claim on the wild card with a victory over the Flyers.