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Playoff Race Update: Carolina Hurricanes Quickly Losing Ground

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We take a look at the state of the Eastern Conference playoff race and how close the Canes are to cracking the top eight.

Jamie Kellner

The Hurricanes came into last week preparing to play four games against the best 3 teams in the league. Their week could not have gone worse. The Canes dropped four straight games while being outscored 20 to 5. How did their alarming slide affect their playoff chances? Lets take a look at the status of the other teams in the race and how they stack up against the Hurricanes.


New York Rangers

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at New York Rangers Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Its a bit odd to be talking about a Rangers team that sits at sixth in the league standings as Wild Card competition in the Eastern Conference, but that’s just the nature of the Metropolitan Division this year. The Rangers would be firmly in the top three of any other division in hockey with 63 points through 48 games this season.

The Rangers have cooled off a bit in comparison to the pace they were covering ground earlier in the season. However, going 6-4-0 in their last 10, they really haven’t stopped winning. The Rangers certainly aren’t happy to have recently fallen out of the top 3 in the Metro, and one has to expect them to push hard to knock one of the three top teams out of a divisional playoff spot.

The Rags have two “four point games” coming up against Metropolitan foes in the Flyers and Blue Jackets. According to complex season simulations on sportsclubstats.com, the Rangers have a 99.6% chance of making the playoffs. Realistically, the Hurricanes don’t have too much hope of competing with the Rangers for a playoff spot unless the team goes on a serious slide in the next few months.


Philadelphia Flyers

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers have played just 2 games since coming off of a much needed bye week. The Flyers enjoyed an emotional win streak through November and December only to see their fortunes turn as they quickly went on a slide. They have not been particularly impressive in the past month, going just 3-7-2 since December 24th.

While the Flyers still have a grip on the WC2 spot in the East, that grip is loosening quickly. If they continue to move through the season at the pace they have been playing in the past month, their playoff hopes will be gone.

The Flyers have a critical stretch coming up in their schedule. Their next three games are all against teams that are competing directly with them for Wild Card spots (Rangers, Maple Leafs, Hurricanes). Despite currently sitting in playoff position, sportsclubstats.com gives the Flyers just a 10.6% chance of making the playoffs. It’s sink or swim time on Broad Street and these Flyers are struggling.


Boston Bruins

NHL: Boston Bruins at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Bruins are in a similar situation to their conference rival Philadelphia Flyers. Just last night, Boston was forced out of the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division by the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins are at a bit of a disadvantage as they have played 50 games, the most of any NHL team and at least 2 more than any other team they’re directly competing with for a playoff spot.

Additionally, the B’s are an ugly 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. sportsclubstats.com gives the Bruins a 26.4% chance to be playing playoff hockey this spring. They face off against a struggling Red Wings team tonight and the Penguins Thursday. Keep an eye on this Bruins club as their performance in the coming months will play a big role in the Hurricanes’ own playoff fight.


Florida Panthers

NHL: Florida Panthers at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers are an interesting team this year. After an impressive regular season and playoff berth last season, they have struggled significantly through half of a season. Just short of two months after randomly firing head coach Gerard Gallant in Raleigh, the Panthers are not looking much better.

Two of the team’s biggest offensive producers in Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau are out indefinitely with injuries, and both could miss the rest of the season. Both forwards compiled 59 points in their 2015-16 campaign; only veterans Jussi Jokinen and Jaromir Jagr had higher point totals on the season.

Since suddenly losing their coach, Florida is a humble 9-9-8 and show few signs of improving soon as they are 4-5-1 in their last 10. Could the Panthers turn their disappointing campaign around? Probably so; they showed us last season that they are fully capable of winning. But I would imagine that they will need for one of their two injured young guns to draw back into the lineup and provide some spark that the odd coach firing was lacking. The Panthers will play two division opponents in the Lightning and the Senators in the next week. With playoff odds at just 6.8% on sportsclubstats.com, the Panthers are going to have to get hot soon.


Toronto Maple Leafs

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs are enjoying the results of their rebuild that kept them in the bottom of the standings for the past few seasons. Led by Calder Trophy favorite Auston Matthews, Mike Babcock’s Leafs are soaring above expectations this season. In many ways, the Maple Leafs are this season’s version of the 2015-16 Florida Panthers. Just last night the Maple Leafs dominated Calgary 4-0, throttling into the top 3 in the Atlantic Division standings.

Toronto is 6-2-2 in their last 10, and with 3 or more games in hand against most of their opponents, this hot team is very dangerous. A three- or four-game win streak would all but solidify their spot in the playoffs. The Leafs aren’t looking at a particularly hard schedule in the next couple of weeks, so they could use this time to make up some serious ground. The Leafs have playoff odds of 83.4% after last night’s win according to sportsclubstats.com. If Toronto continues to trend upwards, don’t expect them to be in competition with the Hurricanes for a playoff spot. However, if they cool off, they could be right there with us.


Carolina Hurricanes

Jamie Kellner

Last but not least, lets take a look at the Carolina Hurricanes and their current state. As stated earlier, the Canes did not have a good week. They went into it knowing that they would have to play some very solid hockey to have a successful four-game campaign against the best teams in the NHL. Seven days later, they emerge with no points to show for their efforts and a spoiled “Dads trip”. The club is in desperate need of some leadership from the core members of the team as they try to get this train back on the tracks.

So what do the Canes need to do to climb into the thick of the playoff race? Well, despite the 4 game slide, the team is still firmly in contention. They sit 3 points out of the WC2 spot occupied by the Flyers with a game in hand on the Metropolitan foe. To start with, the Canes need to beat Philly in a big “4 point game” coming up next Tuesday in Raleigh. Bill Peters needs to take the next two days in Raleigh to regroup and get prepared for Los Angeles this Thursday and perhaps start a new home winning streak.

After their disastrous week, the Canes have a 25.6% chance of making the playoffs based on sportsclubstats.com simulations. Carolina really cannot afford another 4 game slide this season or else they can essentially bid their playoff hopes goodbye. Based on their current record, they need to be winning two games for every game they lose for the remainder of the season. They need to establish a sustained winning streak like so many elite teams have this season in order to really launch themselves into the top eight in the East. We’re getting into the thick of the playoff race in Carolina and the club needs all hands on deck if they want to keep up.