With the 56-game 2021 NHL schedule now out, the Hurricanes know who they’ll play and when they’ll play in a regular season that can’t start soon enough.
Things will be quite different for the Hurricanes, and every NHL team, as Carolina joins a new division missing some traditional foes like the Capitals, Penguins, Islanders and Flyers. In this new division, the Hurricanes will face off with three teams from the Western Conference and only one team coming along from the Metropolitan Division (Columbus).
To make things even weirder, Carolina will only play games against the seven other teams in this new Central Division. The Canes schedule, like every NHL team’s, features eight games (four home and four away) against every team in their newly formed division.
Another wrinkle in things will be the way games are played, as the schedule is almost entirely made up of two-game miniseries in one location against the same team.
With all that in mind, here’s a few key stretches for the Hurricanes to look out for:
April 15-April 27
4/15 — vs. Nashville
4/17 — vs. Nashville
4/19 — at Tampa Bay
4/20 — at Tampa Bay
4/22 — at Florida
4/24 — at Florida
4/26 — at Dallas
4/27 — at Dallas
When looking at the Canes’ 2021 schedule, the first thing you’re going to look for when circling out the hardest games are going to be those against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
This really hard stretch late in the season features two of the Canes’ four road games against the Lightning, which also happens to make up one of just five back-to-backs on Carolina’s entire schedule.
On top of that, the Canes will have to travel to Dallas the next week for a road back-to-back against the team that the Lightning took down in the Stanley Cup Finals this past year.
Everything about this eight-game stretch is hard. The six-game road trip at the end of it is tied for Carolina’s longest of the season, and it again features back-to-back against the two best teams in the division. Add onto that that this stretch starts with two games against Nashville, arguably the third-best team in the division (not including the Canes), and it makes it even harder.
And that’s not to overlook Florida, who could be right in the mix of things fighting for the third spot in the division or a wildcard spot this late in the season.
The hard stretches will include games against the Lightning, Stars and Predators, which this stretch does. The easier stretches will include games against Detroit, Chicago and Columbus, which this stretch does not.
March 14-March 25
3/14 — at Detroit
3/16 — at Detroit
3/18 — vs. Columbus
3/20 — vs. Columbus
3/22 — at Columbus
3/25 — at Columbus
The Hurricanes don’t have a ton of stretches on the schedule that jump out as easy, so this six-game swing featuring games against Detroit and Columbus probably fits the bill of easiest stretch (even with four games coming on the road).
The Canes have two long homestands, but both feature four games against a combination of Tampa Bay, Dallas and Nashville. The Chicago games on the Canes’ schedule are all paired up with games against the Lightning or Stars, and a lot of the Detroit games also fall before or after tough matchups.
So, this six-game stretch presents itself as maybe the easiest. It’s the only six-game stretch on the entire schedule that doesn’t feature a matchup with Tampa Bay, Dallas or Nashville.
Columbus is by no means a bad team, so four straight games against the Blue Jackets will be tough, but still. Add three games to the beginning of this stretch and you get a home game against Detroit and two home games vs. the Predators. Add four games at the end of this six-game stretch, and you have to face the Lightning twice at home but then end with two games in Chicago.
The Canes’ also have a homestand late in the year that features a six-game stretch with two against Florida, two against Detroit and two against Nashville, the other stretch that may have a claim to the Canes’ easiest of the season.
There’s also a four-game stretch at home late in the year that features a game against Detroit, one against Columbus and two against Chicago. That’s definitely the easiest four games on the schedule, but a little short to define as a “stretch” of the season.
Most Important Stretch
April 3-April 17
4/3 — vs Dallas
4/4 — vs Dallas
4/6 — vs Florida
4/8 — vs Florida
4/10 — vs Detroit
4/12 — vs Detroit
4/15 — vs Nashville
4/17 — vs Nashville
This eight-game homestretch late in the season for the Canes could be what makes or breaks the regular season.
With obviously nothing certain, it does feel likely that Tampa Bay will probably win the Central Division, so let’s give them that for now.
Behind the Lightning however, things open up a little bit. While Dallas is probably the most likely second-place finisher, the division really does seem wide open for Dallas, Carolina, Nashville, Florida and Columbus to be fighting for the two and three spots.
So this homestand for the Canes, the longest of the season, will be crucial. The Hurricanes will play host to three of those teams, Dallas, Florida and Nashville, while also getting two highly likely wins against the Red Wings.
If the Hurricanes can do well during this homestand, it could go a very long way in determining whether or not Carolina can get the two or three spot in the Central Division.