Sunday, Apr 3, 2011, 5:00 PM EDT
Before we get started, here are the scenarios for the Canes tonight:
- Canes win in regulation: Tie Buffalo in points and regulation or overtime wins (ROW). Third tiebreaker is season series, and if the Canes win today they will hold that tiebreaker, putting them into 8th with a magic number of 7. This is the only outcome that ensures the Canes have control of their own destiny.
- Canes win in overtime: One point back of Buffalo, still in 9th but tied with Buffalo in ROW. Tragic number drops to 6.
- Canes win in shootout: One point back of Buffalo, still in 9th and still a win behind the Sabres in ROW. Tragic number drops to 6.
- Sabres win in regulation: Sabres go four points up on Canes, drop Rangers back to 8th place where they would be three points ahead of Carolina. Tragic number drops to 3. (If this happens, barring a long losing streak by either BUF or NYR, it's likely over.)
- Sabres win in overtime: Sabres go three points up, take 7th from Rangers who would be two points ahead of Carolina. Tragic number drops to 4. If the Canes and Sabres go to overtime, the Canes want to make darned sure they either win or get to the shootout. A Sabres win before the shootout puts them up by two wins in ROW.
- Sabres win in shootout: Same as above, tragic number at 4 but the Canes would trail the Sabres by one in ROW rather than two.
Here we go...
2:10 1st: If your definition of "a playoff atmosphere" is both teams playing close to the vest in the early going, then this game doesn't have one - but I dare you to tell me this isn't a playoff atmosphere. The crowd is ramped up, both teams have been going up and down the ice and it's been quite the entertaining start.
13:00 1st: Canes are trying way too many cute passes through low-percentage areas so far. The Sabres' sticks have been in the passing lanes all night and they've used the turnovers they've generated to power odd-man rushes the other way. They've already scored on one of them and they've had about three other chances to do likewise.
11:22 2nd: The Canes are really pouring the pressure on now, and it's forcing the Sabres to chase them around the offensive zone. A big shift for the Staal line forced a tripping penalty to Andrej Sekera, who may have hurt his hand at the same time. Rough life for a defenseman.
3:00 3rd: The Sabres took a ton of momentum off their power play to start the period, and they're really forcing the issue now. The Canes have been beaten badly along the boards to start the period and they're lucky to have both escaped penalties and not given up a goal.
6:00 3rd: For the fifth time tonight, the Canes can't convert a power play. At the worst possible time, the Canes' man advantage is reverting to its form from a couple of weeks ago where they couldn't do anything with the extra skater. Fourteen minutes to go and the Canes must score at least once to grab the 8th spot.
11:43 3rd: A four-on-four nearly resulted in a couple of goals for the home team, but nothing doing after LaRose shot high over Enroth on a one-on-one sequence and Ruutu took a shot that left a rebound in the crease with no one there to bang it home. The Canes have had their chances, and they haven't cashed in. Not what you want to hear with eight minutes left in a must win game.
End 3rd: No surprise here: we're going to overtime after the Canes' sixth power play of the night comes up empty. That is an enormous point the Canes earned, but it's a more enormous point that they gave the Sabres. Now they just need a win, somehow.
Postgame: They didn't get it. Marc-Andre Gragnani's first career goal at 2:56 of overtime gave the Sabres the extra point and simultaneously hastened the process of the Canes' slow death march to the offseason. They're not done yet, but with a tragic number of 4 with three games to go it's not looking real optimistic either.