With a shootout win over the Penguins on home ice last night, the Hurricanes have 87 points and sit firmly in the Wild Card 1 position with 10 games left to play. Getting two points in the contest against Pittsburgh was absolutely pivotal based on their proximity in the playoff race as well as an upcoming game against the best team in hockey. In this week’s By The Numbers, I’m going to take a look at the Hurricanes as well the teams that they’re in direct competition with and what their playoff chances are looking like with less than three weeks left in the season.
87 points | 40-25-7 | 38 ROW | Wild Card 1 | 10 Games Remaining | 6th in Schedule Strength
A shootout win over Pittsburgh as well as a Blue Jackets loss in regulation last night increased the Hurricanes’ chances slightly in most models, and at this point most simulations have the Canes as a near shoo in for the post season. However, Columbus is still hot on Carolina’s tail and Pittsburgh just isn’t the type of team that lays down in March. There’s still plenty of work to be done.
The good news is that the Hurricanes have built themselves some breathing room late in the season with an extended stretch of really solid play. That’s big when you consider the fact that they have one of the toughest schedules in the NHL over their remaining ten games.
I think it’s safe to say that the Hurricanes would like to avoid drawing the Lightning in the first round — a death sentence that will be handed to the team occupying the WC2 position at the end of the season. Montreal is fighting for that spot while Columbus is fighting to maintain it, as well as catch Carolina just a few points above them. This is uncharted territory for the Carolina Hurricanes.
89 Points | 39-24-11 | 38 ROW | 3rd Metro | 8 Games Remaining | 28th in Schedule Strength
The Penguins took a tough one in Raleigh last night as they lost in a shootout after allowing a game tying goal from Justin Williams with less than two minutes left in regulation. It marked the second game in a row that they gave up a late third period lead to a divisional foe to eventually fall in extra time. They picked up a point last night but allowed the Hurricanes — who sit two points behind the Pens with two more games remaining— to inch within striking distance.
The Penguins don’t have a problem staying in games late, but they do have trouble limiting offensive chances against. They have been relying much too heavily on Matt Murray over the past few weeks, and it’s going to be harder to get him run support down the stretch with Evgeni Malkin out week-to-week with an upper body injury.
Despite the injury and recent trouble, the Penguins are still well above the playoff cutoff with most models setting their postseason chances above 95 percent. They’re looking at one of the easiest schedules in the NHL over the next two weeks, so they shouldn’t have much of a problem keeping up pace.
Columbus Blue Jackets
84 Points | 40-29-4 | 39 ROW | Wild Card 2 | 9 Games Remaining | 15th in Schedule Strength
The Jackets did most things correctly last night against the Flames, but allowing goals in the last shift of the first period and the first shift of the second period was their ultimate downfall. That lethal top line got plenty of chances to score throughout the game but couldn’t get enough pucks past David Rittich or his goal posts to make up the ground they lost early.
The loss brings them to 0-1-1 on their four game road trip with games to play against weaker teams in Edmonton and Vancouver before returning home. After buying heavily at the trade deadline, the Blue Jackets are now in the danger zone as they try to hold onto a playoff spot. The good news for them is that they have a wealth of top end talent and their schedule moving forward is pretty average. My instinct tells me that this team is going to finish off the year in form and give the Canes a run for their money. If they falter down the stretch, it won’t be for a lack of opportunity.
83 points | 38-28-7 | 36 ROW | 9th EC | 9 Games Remaining | 3rd in Schedule Strength
The Montreal Canadiens just won’t give up. A win in Philadelphia last night allowed them to gain some ground on the Blue Jackets as they pulled to within a point of the WC2 spot. Their play of late hasn’t inspired much hope though — they’re 5-5-0 in their last ten, including regulation losses to the Ducks and Blackhawks.
Despite that, they’re still hanging around in the race and remain very much a threat for one of the two Wild Card positions. The bad news for the Habs is that, similar the Canes, they have one of the most difficult remaining schedules in the league. The final four games of their season are against Winnipeg, Tampa, Washington, and Toronto. That’s a tough last leg. But they’ll first need to collect wins in Sunday’s game in Raleigh and next Thursday’s matchup in Columbus if they want those final four games to matter.
*Schedule Strength Rankings From Power Rankings Guru