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Playoff Race Update: Hurricanes 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 grabbing a wild card spot.

The Hurricanes have performed about as expected coming off of their bye week, going 0-1-1 while being outscored 6-1. They join a host of NHL teams who have been slow out of the gates after a week off. The result of the two-game slide is a bleak outlook on the Hurricanes’ playoff hopes.

How have the last two weeks affected their chances? Let’s take a look at the status of the other teams in the race and how they stack up against the Hurricanes.


Boston Bruins

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

A lot has happened in Boston since we last visited the playoff race. The Bruins fired Stanley Cup winning coach Claude Julien as the team entered their bye week. Just days later, Julien was hired by the rival Montreal Canadiens, a team he’s coached previously.

After a rare win coming off of the bye week yesterday, the Bruins actually seem to be trending in the right direction following Julien’s firing. At 6-4-0 in their last 10 and holding playoff position, it's hard not to question the firing of one of the most proven coaches in hockey.

After a tough win last night, sportsclubstats.com estimates that the Bruins have a 62.4% chance to make the playoffs come April. It’s interesting to note that the Bruins chances went up a staggering 8.4% after yesterday’s win, which means that games are becoming increasingly meaningful in this tight race. The B’s occupy the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division with the Maple Leafs right behind them. Keep an eye on the Bruins as they try to establish an identity in the playoff push after parting with their longtime coach.


Toronto Maple Leafs

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Maple Leafs returned to form last night with a 4-0 smackdown of our Carolina Hurricanes. This was an ugly game in every way imaginable from a Hurricanes perspective. The Leafs potted a couple of highlight reel goals en route to a shutout in Raleigh. Toronto was a humble 3-5-2 in their last 10 games coming into last night’s matchup but you wouldn’t know it by watching this one.

They have a stretch of four games in seven days coming up in which they can really solidify their position in the playoff race or fall back into the chase like so many mid-range teams have over the course of this season. With playoff odds of 63.7%, the Leafs are definitely looking like a playoff team this season. The question is whether or not they will vault into the top three in the Atlantic or occupy a much coveted Wild Card spot. My guess would be that they will overtake the struggling Bruins in the Atlantic which would ultimately be better for the Hurricanes’ playoff chances.


Florida Panthers

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

The Panthers are a team that continue to trend upwards as the playoff race heats up. They occupied the third spot in the Atlantic Division yesterday for just a few hours after their win Saturday in Los Angeles. With that win, the Panthers have now won four straight and seven of their last eight. They will finish out their road trip tonight with a game against the St. Louis Blues. If they increase their win streak to 5, the Panthers will vault into playoff position, overtaking the Bruins for the third spot in the Atlantic.

In a season that looked all but lost with injuries to core players and a coach firing, the Panthers have really turned it around. The team is getting hot at the perfect time. With four games coming up in the next week, the Panthers have ample opportunity to make up some ground. We will see the Panthers in Florida next Tuesday; will they be in solid playoff position at that time or still on the outside looking in?


New York Islanders

NHL: New York Islanders at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Islanders are yet another team in this bunch who have enjoyed a revival since firing their coach. The Isles are 10-4-2 since firing Jack Capuano and hiring former Hurricane and Stanley Cup Champion Doug Weight.

The Islanders will play 18 of their remaining 25 games on the road this season, which means that they will have a tough road to the playoffs after such a slow start. With just seven wins away from their home at the Barclays Center, its difficult to see this Islanders team punching a ticket to the playoffs. The Islanders are sitting just one point out of the WC2 spot and sportsclubstats.com gives them a low 36.7% chance to make the postseason. They will need to shift a season long pattern of poor play on the road if they want a shot at the playoffs.


Tampa Bay Lightning

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning are a team we haven’t really talked about since captain Steven Stamkos went down a few months ago with a knee injury that has sidelined him indefinitely. The Lightning have been trending upwards lately and look to be reentering the race as a real contender. They’ve managed to make up some ground winning 4 out of their last 6, but still sit five points in back of the WC2 position.

However, I see this Tampa Bay team as more of a threat for the Wild Card and to the Hurricanes based on the fact that they’re getting hot and they’ve been there before. Unlike a team like the Flyers, the Lightning are picking up steam heading towards the trade deadline rather than slowing down. The Lightning have 15 home games left on their schedule. With just 11% chance to make the playoffs according to sportsclubstats.com simulations, the Lightning are undoubtably missing their captain and perennial leading scorer. But if they can continue to trend upwards and remain in the conversation for his remaining month of recovery time then they will be a real problem.


Carolina Hurricanes

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Hurricanes came off the bye week in very ugly fashion, but what did we honestly expect? The reality of the situation in Carolina is that things are not looking good. The Canes are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games, meaning that the team is hitting a wall at a critical time in the playoff race. General Manager Ron Francis has some big decisions to make coming up in the next 2 weeks leading up to the trade deadline; are we a buyer or a seller?

After an embarrassing showing last night against a Maple Leafs team that occupies the WC2 spot, the answer is looking more and more like the latter. Sportsclubstats.com gives the Hurricanes a sobering 5.8% chance to make the postseason this year. But all hope is not lost. The Hurricanes have 15 of their remaining 27 games at home, where we are 17-7-2. Additionally, only 12 of the team’s next 27 games are against teams who currently occupy a playoff spot.

What does this mean? The Hurricanes have one of the easiest schedule’s in the league for the remainder of the season. Despite sitting nine points out of the WC2 position, the Hurricanes have played on 55 games, at least two fewer than any other team in the entire league. The Hurricanes need to pick up some steam immediately if they want to have a chance to make the playoffs. The team has four games leading up to the trade deadline on March 1st; three of which are in PNC. Watch closely because these games will ultimately set the tone for the remainder of the season.