Thirty-two games are all that the Carolina Hurricanes are guaranteed to play this year.
If there will be more games — playoff games — they’ll need to play well down the stretch.
The NHL has emerged from its All-Star slumber, and the playoff race is starting to take shape. For the Hurricanes (29-18-3, 61pts), it looks like another nail-biter in the log-jam that is the Eastern Conference.
There are SEVEN teams with point totals between 65 and 60 in the Eastern Conference. Those seven teams (Tampa , Islanders , Florida , Columbus , Carolina , Toronto , and Philly ) are vying for the final five playoff spots. At least two of them will not make it — assuming Washington (73), Boston (70), and Pittsburgh (67) hold on to their spots.
For the Canes to make the playoffs, they’ll need to do two things:
First, they’ll need to build on their excellent record (14-3-2) against the Western Conference. Including tonight’s game against Vegas, the Canes will play six straight games — including a four-game road trip — against Western Conference opponents. Winning all of those games is a bit much to ask, but two out of every three? That’s probably necessary.
Second, the Canes will have to beat some Metropolitan Division opponents. That will be a task more suitable for March than February. The Canes play only two divisional games over the next month. However, in March, they will play NINE.
Erik Haula draws back into the lineup against his former team, while Nino Niederreiter will likely serve as the healthy extra tonight.
In net, Petr Mrazek (18-12-2, .905 SV%, 2.59 GAA) gets the start.
The Canes’ expected lines:
Andrei Svechnikov - Jordan Staal - Warren Foegele
Ryan Dzingel - Sebastian Aho - Teuvo Teravainen
Brock McGinn - Erik Haula - Martin Necas
Jordan Martinook - Lucas Wallmark- Justin Williams
Jaccob Slavin - Joel Edmundson
Jake Gardiner - Brett Pesce
Haydn Fleury - Trevor van Riemsdyk
Injuries and Scratches: Dougie Hamilton (IR leg), Nino Niederreiter (healthy)
The Vegas Golden Knights (25-20-7, 57pts) are also playing their first game back after the All-Star break. It’s been a rough January for the Golden Knights; they lost six of their last seven games before the All-Star game. They now hold the first wildcard spot in the Western Conference, only three points above the playoff cutline.
There’s no secret to the Golden Knights — they’re led by their big-name stars. Max Pacioretty (21g, 26a) and Mark Stone (18g, 28a) lead the attack upfront. Marc-Andre Fleury is serving a one-game suspension for skipping the All-Star game, so Malcolm Subban (6-7-3, .898 SV%, 3.04 GAA) will be in net.
Former Hurricanes prospect Nicolas Roy will center Vegas’ fourth line. Roy was dealt along with a draft pick to Vegas over the summer in exchange for Erik Haula.
The Knights’ expected lines:
Max Pacioretty - Paul Stastny - Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault - Chandler Stephenson - Reilly Smith
Will Carrier - Cody Eakin - Alex Tuch
Tomas Nosek - Nicolas Roy - Ryan Reaves
Brayden McNabb - Nate Schmidt
Nick Holden - Shea Theodore
Nicolas Hague - Deryk Engelland
Injuries and Scratches: Cody Glass (lower-body), William Karlsson (upper-body), Marc-Andre Fleury (suspended)