It was a pivotal weekend for the Carolina Hurricanes, but despite getting three of four points the Canes still sit ninth in the Eastern Conference playoff race with the regular season quickly coming to a close. Here are five observations from the team's two weekend games.
1. As they say, it's better to be lucky than good. In both games, Carolina felt what both sides of that mantra is like this weekend. On Saturday, the Hurricanes saw the Islanders ring two shots off the post before they eventually overtook New York and held on for a crucial road win. But Sunday it was Buffalo that had luck on their side as Joe Corvo rang the post on a Carolina 5-on-3, then the Sabres pinballed in the overtime winner off two Carolina players. By no means was luck the only reason the Canes won or lost either game (Carolina's lone goal Sunday also took a weird path to go in) but hockey, more than any major sport, can come down to a bounce, and either game could have easily gone the other way with one different carom.2. There were also some interesting penalties called this weekend. Carolina saw a first-period man-advantage erased Saturday when Islanders coach Jack Capuano informed the referees of an illegal lineup infraction on the Hurricanes. Then the Sabres took a delay of game penalty Sunday when a player on the Buffalo bench grabbed and held Erik Cole's stick after the forward was checked into the boards. Both infractions are absolute "do nots" in any game, and the fact that either occurred by teams with so much on the line shows brutal carelessness and a lack of discipline, respectively.
3. Cole wanted nothing more than to be the hero again Sunday against Buffalo after tallying the game-winner against the Isles the night before, and the stats tell the entire story. Cole had a staggering 11 hits in the Sabres game and 11 shot attempts (though only four registered as shots). Coach Paul Maurice leaned hard on his top forwards, with four (Cole, Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner and Cory Stillman) playing more than 20 minutes, but the team managed just one goal.
4. If the Hurricanes are unable to reach the postseason, surely many will look back on their late-season power play troubles as the reason why they fell short. Carolina were shut out on six power plays Sunday, including more than a minute with a 5-on-3. And while it didn't end up costing them Saturday, the team was also 0 for 3 on Long Island. The penalty kill has stood tall (six kills over the weekend), but Carolina's inability to convert with the man advantage again came back to bite them.
5. While many deemed Sunday's game a must-win and wrote off Carolina's chances following the overtime loss, the fact remains Carolina is still just two points back of the Rangers and three behind the Sabres with all three teams set to play three more times. Part of the picture will refocus — or further blur — tonight when New York hosts Boston. The Rangers then see Atlanta come to town Thursday before closing their season out against the Devils at Madison Square Garden. Ending your season with three home games is usually a plus, but the Rangers have been more successful on the road (24-16-1) than at home (18-16-4) this year. Buffalo next plays Tuesday when they host Tampa Bay then Philadelphia Friday before ending their season in Columbus. Carolina will watch New York and Buffalo play one game before hosting the Red Wings Wednesday. The Hurricanes finish their road schedule in Atlanta Friday before closing out their season the next night on home ice vs. the Lightning. Carolina will likely need at least five points to even have a shot at making it to the postseason, while six would give them an even better shot at getting in. With seven points in their last four games and 13 points in their past eight games, Carolina is on the kind of run that could yield the points they need. At the same time, they need some help.