As we approach the final month or so of the regular season, divisional/playoff races become more intense, and every game matters more than ever. For the Carolina Hurricanes, their First Round opponent could either be the division-leading Florida Panthers or second-place Tampa Bay Lightning. The Canes would have to win the division to host the Discover Central fourth-place team, currently held by the Nashville Predators.
The week that was:
This past week was a bit of a stumbling block for Carolina with regulation losses to the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars. However, the Hurricanes were able to avenge both losses, ending this week with a 2-2-0 record.
On Tuesday, March 30, the Canes fell to Chicago 2-1 in regulation, the first in a two-game series at the United Center. With no goals by either team in the first period, the Blackhawks tallied two goals early in the second, while Svechnikov cut the lead in half late in that middle frame. Unfortunately for Carolina, the score would remain 2-1 in favor of the home team.
Kevin Lankinen turned away 31 of 32 shots, while Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 14 of only 16 shots on goal in the loss. Coach Rod Brind’Amour said after the loss, “…we handed them two goals…” seemingly unhappy with the team’s performance.
The Hurricanes bounced back on Thursday, April 1, with a 4-3 win in regulation. Warren Foegele (on his 25th birthday) had two goals, while Vincent Trocheck also scored, and Jesper Fast netted the game-winner with only 29 seconds left in regulation.
Just two days after being named Rookie of the Month for March, Nedeljkovic surrendered his second regulation loss of the week, a 3-2 final at home vs. the Stars. Jake Oettinger stopped 41 of 43 shots while Ned surrendered three goals on 25 shots. This loss was also compounded by division rival Panthers and Lightning winning their games, adding two more points between the Hurricanes and first/second place.
As they did on April 1, Carolina bounced back for a critical win in regulation. Earlier in the week, Petr Mrazek appeared in (and won) his only start for the Chicago Wolves as a conditioning stint for his injured thumb. Not playing an NHL game since sustaining the injury in early February, Mrazek stopped all 28 shots faced for a 1-0 victory. That shutout marked his 3rd of the season in only five starts. Jordan Martinook scored the game’s lone goal and only his second goal of the season.
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What to look for:
The Canes have a tough week ahead if they want to keep pace with a streaking Florida Panthers team, who has won six straight and currently sit atop the NHL in points.
Carolina has a two-game set in Raleigh against the Panthers on Tuesday and Thursday. While trailing Florida by three points in the standings, these two games could produce a seven-point gap between the two, see the Canes take a one-point lead, or any combination in between. This short series is a critical juncture if the Hurricanes look to win the division.
This week’s remaining game is at PNC Arena vs. the Detroit Red Wings Saturday, April 10; the first of two against Detroit, the second game on Monday, April 12.
Though the Red Wings currently sit last in the division, Carolina cannot take any games for granted or look past any opponent. We’ll cover this in the next installment of The Week in (P)review, but the Hurricanes host the red-hot Nashville Predators later next week to finish out the eight-game homestand.
Aside from tough matchups and point standings, the trade deadline is rapidly approaching, and questions concerning a three-goalie rotation still loom on the forefront. It will be interesting to see who is sitting in the backup crease for Mrazek during practice this week and if there’s any movement within the roster on or before the trade deadline next Monday, at 3 pm est.