RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The Carolina Hurricanes have already punched their ticket for the Stanley Cup playoffs. They accomplished that last week in a 5-3 win over Buffalo.
So what should fans expect from the ‘Canes over the final nine games of the season? The President’s Trophy for best regular-season team is just about out of reach. Colorado (110 points) and Florida (108 points) have a healthy lead over the ‘Canes and each has played one fewer game.
What is well within reach is a Metropolitan Division title. The Hurricanes have a 2-point lead on the New York Rangers, who they’ll visit twice in the final weeks of the season. Those games on April 12 and April 26 will have a significant bearing on which team finishes atop the division.
If the playoffs began today, Carolina would play Boston in the first round. However, if the Rangers were to jump them in the standings and all else remained the same, they’d draw Pittsburgh.
Does it make a difference to Rod Brind’Amour and his team? He would probably downplay it, but it’s worth noting that the ‘Canes are 3-0 against the Bruins this season, beating them by a combined 16-1 score. They are 2-1 against the Penguins. The two wins were each by a goal, including one in overtime.
Carolina definitely seems to match up better with Boston. Many fans will also want a measure of revenge after being eliminated by the Bruins in 2019 and 2020. Still, there will be tough teams for the Hurricanes to beat if they want to make a deep run.
The other marquee game on the remaining slate is in Colorado on April 16. Besides being a chance to hit the road and measure themselves against one of the NHL’s best, it also could serve as a preview of the Stanley Cup Final. Each is regarded as one of the best teams in their respective conference.
Battling for the division championship should be Carolina’s focus down the stretch. Having that goal to make the finals few weeks meaningful can only be beneficial to getting the ‘Canes in playoff shape.
Having games against lowly clubs like Detroit, Arizona, and New Jersey also offers opportunities to fiddle with some strategies ahead of the postseason. For example, can Max Domi take hold of the center role on the second power play unit? Or will Jordan Staal get another look there after his hat trick against Anaheim on Sunday?
Also, Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic reported that Jesperi Kotkaniemi should only be out injured for another week or two. Will he make it back before the playoffs? If so, does he slot back into his fourth-line center role?
More than any tinkering, the Hurricanes should just focus on building momentum. It’s been a month since they strung together more than two wins in a row. Gaining steam can make all the difference at this time of the year.