Any hope the Carolina Hurricanes had of making the postseason has gone down the drain in a hurry over the past 48 hours.
A day after the Canes spent large stretches of time looking lifeless against the Toronto Maple Leafs, they returned to PNC Arena on Friday and promptly got smoked 4-1 by a Boston Bruins team intent on making their own playoff push.
It was a throwback to earlier in the season. The Canes brought their game in a fast-moving first period, firing twelve shots on B's goaltender Tuukka Rask, but they found themselves down by two thanks to goals 2:12 apart by Patrice Bergeron and Matt Beleskey. Again, like the PNC crowd has seen so many times this year, the Canes' carelessness with the puck cost them, with Jaccob Slavin turning the puck over under pressure from Brett Connolly for the B's first goal.
Despite the score, Canes captain Eric Staal said, he was happy with how the squad came out of the gate.
"I thought we were ready to go. I thought we were competitive," Staal said in what may have been his final comments to the Carolina media before the trade deadline on Monday. "I thought we played hard. We made some mistakes against a team that knows how to play. We just weren't able to find enough offensively."
Noah Hanifin, playing his first game against his hometown team, cut the lead in half three minutes into the third period with a power play goal that was originally credited to Victor Rask. Rask himself came close a couple of minutes later, before Beleskey hammered in the dagger at 6:24 with his second of the game.
"The third one hurt," said Canes coach Bill Peters. "I thought we had some looks when it was 3-1, but we skated hard tonight. We hadn't skated in our last two games. That was a positive for sure."
Rask somehow missed the net on a feed from Riley Nash with four minutes to go, emblematic of the way the Canes got their chances but couldn't convert. They fired 40 shots on Tuukka Rask, but never really seemed to trouble the Bruins' netminder.
With Andrej Nestrasil out - for the rest of the season, according to the man himself on an Instagram post earlier on Friday - the Canes' hot line was significantly cooled by the combination of Bergeron, Marchand and Connolly. Jordan Staal finished a team-worst minus-4, and Chris Terry and Joakim Nordstrom both posted a minus-3. Terry was moved off the wing in favor of Elias Lindholm in the third period.
A crowd of 17,917, the largest at PNC since the home opener back in October, tried to boost the Canes in the dying minutes, but Brad Marchand extended his team lead with his 32nd goal of the season into the empty net with 13 seconds remaining. Ultimately, the Canes looked done in by the Bruins' relentless forecheck and their own empty tank of gas.
With the trade deadline looming, the Canes are saying all the right things, but the uncertainty is weighing on every member of the locker room. Monday can't come soon enough, no matter who actually remains once the horn sounds at 3:00.
The Canes were scheduled to practice on Saturday, but Peters gave the team the day off to rest up and prepare for a visit from the St. Louis Blues on Sunday afternoon.