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By The Numbers: Tracking The Playoff Race With a Month To Go

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The Hurricanes remain firmly in the playoff hunt but face a difficult road ahead.

Jamie Kellner

With an overtime loss in Boston last night, the Carolina Hurricanes saw a five game winning streak come to an end. Despite the extra-time letdown, earning a come-from-behind point in enemy territory against the hottest team in hockey can be perceived as a win. But when you consider that the Penguins, Blue Jackets, and Canadiens all picked up two points and gained ground on the Hurricanes, the game starts to feel more and more like a missed opportunity.

A few weeks ago we talked about the remaining schedule and its relative difficulty. We’ve reached the point in March in which there are almost no easy games left on the docket (as if any games in the NHL are easy). Of the remaining 16 games on the Hurricanes’ schedule, 11 of them are against teams in playoff position or just one point out. That includes a game against the Lightning and two each against the Caps and Penguins. Losing three out of that set of five would be potentially damning in a playoff race that feels like it will come down to the final hour.

The good news? Almost everyone is playing tough games at this point in season. 11 games out of the Blue Jackets’ next 14 are against teams currently in playoff position, and they have even more ground to make up than Carolina, albeit only slightly. Ten out of the Penguins’ remaining 16 matchups are against teams in playoff position or just one point out of contention.

If I’ve learning anything as a fan of this hockey team over the past decade, it’s that you can’t expect other teams to do you any favors in March. Win enough hockey games and you’ll be in the playoffs, regardless of how other teams are performing. For the Hurricanes, crossing the elusive playoff finish line still remains a tough hill to climb.

The Hurricanes sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division with 79 points in 68 games, good for 58% point collection and a 98 point pace. It’s pretty safe to say that maintaining this level of point production through the remaining 16 games would punch a ticket to the dance. A continuation of the torrid pace that they’ve been playing with since the new year would throttle the team well into playoff territory, but there’s a good chance that maintaining a 20-6-2 velocity through the grueling March schedule just isn’t realistic.

The Penguins and Canadiens are both on a 98 point pace — identical to the Hurricanes but with one less Regulation + Overtime win. The Blue Jackets sit just two points behind the pack in point pace with a projected 96 points. Assuming all of those teams maintain their pace, the Hurricanes would need 97 points to guarantee their spot in the postseason for the first time in a decade. That’s 18 points, achievable with records of 9-7-0, 8-6-2, etc. That’s a tall order given the schedule ahead, but it’s not at all unrealistic given their body of work to date.

With a young and relatively inexperienced team like this one, it’s valid to be concerned about the idea of “peaking too early.” If they string together a few losses, we’re suddenly on the outside looking in once again as the ladder continues to get harder and harder to climb. But amount of games that they’ve been winning this calendar year as well as the manner with which they’ve been winning them leads me to believe that Rod Brind’Amour and his team won’t let that happen.