It’s not too early for the Carolina Hurricanes to gloss every game as “must-win.” In fact, this season has had that feel for quite some time, maybe even as early as December. The logjam that has been the Metropolitan Division of the Eastern Conference has placed a sense of urgency on most of its member teams. One recent game highlights the reality of how painful losing just one game can be to a team.
Setting up the Painful Home Loss to the Flyers
A glaring example of that is the Hurricanes’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 6. But, looking back prior to that contest is essential to see just how important every game really is when trying to make the playoffs. It all started on Feb. 2 with a 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
Here’s how the numbers set up at that time from my piece, “Hurricanes Brutal Lack of Effort“: “With 56 points, a win would have put the Hurricanes one point ahead of the Flyers, who currently have 57, and three ahead of the New York Islanders who had 55.” What a points swing. And, to make matters worse, the Hurricanes had another game two nights later against the San Jose Sharks that they also lost. The scenario had not changed. Win and overtake the Flyers.
After the loss to the Sharks, Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters blasted his squad in the postgame press conference. It was the angriest I have seen Peters in a long time. The question was, would his fury be short-lived, propelling them to a win against the Flyers who were up next in two short days? Or, had he lost his team and also the season’s hopes for a spot in the playoffs?
The Ripple Effect of Loss to Flyers
With great anticipation, the Flyers came to town. The Hurricanes had squandered two legitimate chances to overtake them by losing to the Red Wings and the Sharks. But, all was not lost. Here was another chance to get into the driver’s seat and make a run for the playoffs. The team did respond to Peters’ verbal blasting with a better effort, but it was not enough. The Flyers won in overtime and left town with 59 points to the Hurricanes’ 57. The ripple effect would begin.
Through Saturday night, in the two games that both teams have played since the Hurricanes lost, they both have been victorious. The Flyers beat the Montreal Canadiens, 5-3, and the Arizona Coyotes, 4-3 in a shootout. Courtesy of Sunday nighgt’s win against the Vegas Golden Knights, they now have 65 points and are riding a four-game winning streak. The shootout win over the Coyotes came with a price, however, as goalie Brian Elliott had to leave during the shootout after getting hit inadvertently near his face by the Coyotes’ Clayton Keller. Backup goalie Michal Neuvirth came off the bench to stop five shootout attempts in the Flyers’ win.
The Hurricanes have surprisingly had two of their best performances of the season, winning first against the Vancouver Canucks, 4-1, then the following night 3-1 against the Colorado Avalanche. On the upside, Scott Darling, who has struggled mightily since coming to the Hurricanes, got the win Friday night against the Canucks.
Had the Hurricanes won against the Flyers, the tables would look dramatically the same, all things being equal. Instead of being in the second wild-card spot, one point behind the New Jersey Devils, and one point ahead of both the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders, the Hurricanes would have 62 points, and so would the Flyers. The Flyers, courtesy of that one point in their win over the ‘Canes, are now in third place overall in the playoff rankings in the Metropolitan Division. This is a much stronger position than holding on desperately to the second wild-card spot.
Had the Hurricanes beaten the Flyers, through Saturday night, the logjam would be incredible. They would have 62 points as would the Flyers and the Devils. The Devils would likely hold that third spot the Flyers now hold, (although that is not certain), and the Hurricanes would likely be in the first wild-card spot with the Flyers in the second. That one point has put the Flyers currently in a much better position, and it vividly highlights for the Hurricanes, the painful consequences of losing.
Granted, there are 26 games left for the Hurricanes and 26 for the Flyers, whose victory over the Golden Knights Sunday night, 4-1, gives them yet even more breathing room at 65 points. There is still a lot of hockey to be played. The Flyers play seven games between now and Mar. 1, when they face the Hurricanes again, this time at home. The Hurricanes will play seven games before they skate into Philadelphia. All of the aforementioned could be moot as far as standings and playoff positions by then. But, one thing will resonate loudly every single night – every single game and every single point are crucial, and leaving points on the ice will likely have painful consequences.
The Hurricanes are legitimately in playoff contention. If they can avoid the type of horrid lack of effort they displayed against both the Red Wings and the Sharks, they should face the Flyers on Mar. 1 and still be in the hunt. In the meantime, the Flyers are not going to be sitting on their hands waiting for the ‘Canes. While they wait to see the extent of Elliott’s injury, they are in a good spot and they will fight to keep it that way. One thing is certain — for fans of both of these teams, the next two weeks will be nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat contests every night.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.