The Carolina Hurricanes’ nascent winning streak came to a screeching halt last night in New Jersey, and with it, any remaining hope of pulling off a miracle.
Both teams came into last night’s game on opposite ends of the playoff-race spectrum. The New Jersey Devils are locked in a battle for the final playoff spot and had to play desperate. The Canes, well...they weren’t technically eliminated, but with a .04% chance to make the playoffs, their fate was all but sealed.
The rested Devils played desperate with their backs up against a wall, and they proved able to eke out a win in the third period. Last night’s game just shows the difference between a playoff team and a non-playoff team. In a crucial race for the playoffs, the Devils were able to steal a victory when defeat looked imminent. For the Canes, it was another defeat that could have - should have - been avoided.
The game didn’t officially end the Hurricanes’ playoff chances, but they’re all but nonexistent, and they may be completely gone before their next game. The season has been an emotional rollercoaster, given that the Canes had a very real chance to make the playoffs this year, but there are some good things to build on and takeaways for the offseason.
Young Players’ Extended Audition
The past few games have, to an extent, been less about the results and more about seeing what the young guys up from Charlotte can do. For both Valentin Zykov and Warren Foegele, this was their first game against a team that has not been eliminated from playoff contention. While they both have looked good against the likes of Ottawa and Arizona, a desperate Devils team is a much different foe.
The good news is that they largely passed the test. Foegele registered his second goal in as many games, keeping him on a more than a point per game pace for his NHL career. Foegele also received valuable experience on the PK twice in the game. He had a little bit of a communication issue on the first of two goals they surrendered on the PK, but that will come in time. The goal was set up by a beautiful cross-ice pass from Taylor Hall, so there’s only so much you can do.
Originally for both players, the call-up was supposed to be a short audition, so the coaches can rotate players in and out as in the preseason to see who’s ready for the show. However, both players are doing their best to force the organization’s hand to keep them in Raleigh for the rest of the season.
If Foegele and Zykov can stay at the NHL level, it would give the Canes a ton of flexibility. Keeping the Teuvo Teravainen-Sebastian Aho-Zykov line can stay together allows Jordan Staal to center his own line with, ideally, Justin Williams and Jeff Skinner to round out the top six. Where the Canes need to focus is on having a useful third line; could Elias Lindholm or Victor Rask anchor a scoring line with a combination of two of Brock McGinn, Phil Di Giuseppe, and Foegele?
Scott Darling Came Out Strong
Let's be honest, through most of the season, Scott Darling hasn’t looked comfortable. He generally comes out looking really jumpy and if he lets up an early goal he never seems to settle in and play confidently. Early on into the first, Darling looked efficient in his movements and deliberate in his positioning.
He didn’t get outside the posts or below the goal line when going from side to side. At one point early in the first, he also anticipated where the Devils players were, so when a pass was made from his left into the slot, he slid to the perfect position to make the stop on the one-timer like he knew it was coming before it happened.
As a big goalie, he is normally able to rely on going to the butterfly early and often since his big body seals off most of the net. However, we saw in his last start against the Oilers how that can go wrong. He went down early and at bad angles and Edmonton put up a full touchdown on the Canes. Tonight, there were times where he would still stay down, but then correct his angle and move out which makes him even bigger to the shooter. I don’t remember him looking this confident since he got a win in Washington, D.C. in January.
The final goal of the game was the only one that really looked to be on Darling. He kicked a rebound right to Andy Greene, who was able to beat Darling 5-hole as he was sliding for position.
The bottom line is still that the Canes allowed 44 shots in what amounted to their last stand. Darling should have earned a win with his play, but the team couldn’t come through for him. The Canes continue their road trip on Friday in Washington, D.C., likely with official elimination on the line, unless the Devils beat the Penguins on Thursday and
confirm the inevitable put this season out of its blessed misery already.