Currently: Eighth place, 78 points
Last 10: 6-3-1
Remaining: 12 games -- 8 at home, 7 vs. teams below them in the standings
The Skinny: The savvy re-acquisition of Erik Cole at the deadline lit a spark under Eric Staal and helped power Carolina to a three-game win streak that saw them outscore their opposition 20-6. Rod Brind'Amour, who spent most of the season looking for directions, suddenly has four goals in four games and looks like the force he was the last time the Canes made the playoffs.
Unfortunately, old habits die hard, and they reverted to their kinder, gentler, losing ways against the Hawks and Stars -- two teams struggling through some tough times of their own. The problem: a near total absence of physical play and a forward corps that seems all too happy to dance around the perimeter waiting for scoring chances to magically appear instead of creating them by going hard to the net.
Cam Ward's doing his best to keep them alive down the stretch, continuing what's shaping up to be a career-best season. But without consistent offensive help, and with a schedule that looks like it's going to work against them (with two against the Caps and three against the Devils), he's going to hard-pressed to carry the load.
The Verdict: They're too soft and the schedule's too hard. The streak of postseason disappointment continues.