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About Last Night: This Isn’t Playoff Hockey

The Canes are fighting for a wild card, but are they wild to think they have a chance in the playoffs?

Jamie Kellner

Last night’s game was a close one by the final score of 3-2, and despite some of the tempered criticism I’ve seen, I thought much of it was a feat of miscommunication, whiffs and bad passing by the Hurricanes.

The Canes could barely keep the blue line. Their power play entries were routine in nature and routine in failure. They didn’t give Connor Hellebuyck much of a reason to force more excellent saves, with easy shots to the chest or taps to the pads.

Face it: even though breaking the playoff drought is tangible this year, the Hurricanes in the playoffs likely isn’t as pretty a picture as it sounds. A couple wins doesn’t change the fact that what we see on the ice is far from a postseason difference-maker.

A few scenes from last night’s game still haunt me this morning.

First and probably most widely noticed, the instance where Brock McGinn bites low on a Paul Stastny, who is both signalling pass all the way and not nearly as deadly a shooter as Patrik Laine, wide open at the left point. If the Canes going to make this poor a decision, especially on the penalty kill, then playing Alex Ovechkin or Auston Matthews in the first round of the playoffs won’t be pleasant.

I also remember Haydn Fleury skating out of the defensive zone, under little pressure, passing the puck to a Jets player in open ice. No deflection, no bounce pass mishap, just a straight-up “here ya go” play. That was indicative of a larger failure on the night for Carolina: 16 giveaways to Winnipeg’s 5. A surefire way to create scoring chances for the opposition, especially well-groomed top-tier teams.

Even Sebastian Aho, Mr. 100 last night had his own gaffe, whiffing on a puck twice in a row as he attempted an offensive zone pass. Once at the blue line, once in front of the net. Sure, the Jets defense had good timing with their stick lifts, but there were a handful of phantom pucks the Canes went fruitlessly swinging at too.

Of course there were the obvious headscratchers—a 17-4 shot differential for the Canes in the second period that yielded a 1-0 deficit in score, good goaltending from Cam Ward stymied by bad luck and bad defense.

And perhaps the thing that made me cringe the most last night was a compliment from Tripp Tracy: “I love the gear Carolina found after Stastny made it 3-1.”

Come on, Tripp. It’s the same gear they’ve found all year in that position. The Canes thrive in situations of desperation, and it’s so noticeable because that same effort is rarely found in the first and second periods. It’s been apparent all season that, compared to the other team, the Hurricanes haven’t had the same impetus or energy to find earlier success.

Praying for late third period comebacks is a surefire way to get embarrassed in the playoffs.

This is not to discredit great play by the Jets. The big boys laid the wood, the Laine line was on point, and Stastny has looked great in the short time since the trade from St. Louis.

But I thought Carolina showed more signs of weakness than Winnipeg showed signs of strength.

So whether or not this team is right there in the hunt, a playoff bid would likely mean easy hunting for a top seed in the first-round.