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About Last Night(ish): Getting closer

The Hurricanes are inching closer to the division title after a 5-2 win over the Islanders Sunday.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at New York Islanders Thomas Salus-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes inched closer and closer to a Metro Division title Sunday afternoon on Long Island, battling through some adversity to beat the Islanders 5-2.

The Canes won the game on the ice but potentially suffered a big blow in the injury department, as goaltender Antti Raanta left the game in the second period. With Frederik Andersen already sidelined with injury, the loss of Raanta is a tough pill to swallow.

So, about Sunday afternoon:

Locking things down for Pyotr

With Raanta exiting the game in the second period, it was Pyotr Kochetkov who had to play for the second straight day.

Kochetkov obviously made his successful NHL debut Saturday against the Devils, and he was thrown right back into the fire the very next day and again helped propel the Canes to a win.

Kochetkov was solid, stopping 7 of 8 shots faced, but the guys in front of him really did well to keep the pressure off him Sunday.

When Raanta exited the game, things seemed to tighten up a bit for the most part. The third period was by far the Canes’ best of the game, and it was particularly strong on the defensive end. The Islanders managed just four scoring chances for in the entire third period, compared to nine and 10 in the first two, and had only two high-danger chances in the final 20 minutes.

The Hurricanes did a great job as a unit of digging in and helping make life as easy as possible on Kochetkov, and it was a big reason for the win.

“I don’t think it’s an easy position for a goaltender to come in midgame,” said Derek Stepan. “I thought Raanta was really good for us. When [Kochetkov] came in, I think everyone really tightened up to help a teammate. The kid did a great job. Overall, our best period was the third period. That’s a big part of tonight’s game.”

So, about the goaltending?

The extent of Raanta’s injury is unknown, and there hasn’t been an official update on Andersen since the initial “we’ll know more in a week”.

Kochetkov is obviously young and inexperienced, but with Raanta and Andersen sidelined he’s the Canes’ best choice. By far.

Alex Lyon, who has played well in a couple starts for Carolina this season, is also injured. Eetu Makiniemi, who played well for the Wolves earlier in the year, and Beck Warm are both also injured.

Jack LaFontaine is the healthy option, and I guess LaFontaine will come up again to backup Kochetkov if Raanta and Andersen are to be sidelined for longer.

It’s a really, really, really precarious situation for the Hurricanes with the playoffs a week away, and here’s hoping for good news on both Andersen and Raanta.

But for now, Rod Brind’Amour put it best Sunday afternoon.

“Well, what are you gonna do? Cry over it? We just have to keep moving forward.”

The playoff situation

So, where do the Hurricanes stand in the Metro race?

Right now, the Canes lead the Rangers by four points with one more game played. The Canes have 112 points with two games remaining, against the Rangers and Devils. The Rangers have 108 points with three games remaining, against the Canes, Canadiens and Capitals.

Another important number is that the Hurricanes currently have 45 regulation wins, while the Rangers have 43. Regulation wins is the first tiebreaker if the teams end the season tied on points.

The clinching solution is pretty simple for the Hurricanes. Beat the Rangers and you win the Metro. Get one point against the Rangers and beat the Devils in any fashion, and you win the Metro.

Now, say the Rangers win all three of their remaining games in regulation, including Tuesday against the Hurricanes. That would put New York at 114 points with 46 regulation wins.

If the Canes could beat the Devils in regulation Thursday, they would still win the Metro with the next tiebreaker, which is regulation+OT (non shootout) wins.

But if the Rangers win out in regulation and the Hurricanes don’t beat the Devils in regulation, then New York can win the division. The division winner will likely play the Bruins (though possibly the Capitals) in the first round, while the second-place finished will play the Penguins.

It’s still a little complicated, but the Hurricanes are still overwhelmingly in the driver’s seat to win the Metro.

Other thoughts from Sunday’s game

  • Max Domi is pretty good. He was phenomenal Sunday, finishing the game with the go-ahead goal and a team-high four individual scoring chances for. He looked really comfortable and dangerous, and he continues to look better and better in the Hurricanes’ system.
  • Derek Stepan deserves to play. Stepan slotted back into the lineup and quickly scored a goal Sunday, finishing the game with three shots and a team-best two high-danger chances. Stepan is a really valuable piece of the lineup when he plays, and he should be in the lineup. It’s tough with the Canes depth, I get it, but Stepan should be in there. If that means Jordan Martinook and Steven Lorentz don’t play, so be it.
  • Jesper Fast has a new career high with 14 goals, and I don’t think he gets talked about enough. The Fast-Jordan Staal-Nino Niederreiter line is so good, and Staal and Niederreiter rightly get a lot of praise. But man, Fast just doesn’t have bad games. He’s reliable. He gives you what you expect him to give you. Fantastic player who knows his role, and he’s a really important piece of the puzzle.