It’s simple. The Carolina Hurricanes need points. They need the teams ahead of them to not get points. They have been doing well at the getting points part of the equation, entering Thursday night’s home tilt against the Columbus Blue Jackets riding a 12-game point streak. Obviously, what other teams do is out of their hands. Nearly 12,000 were on hand to watch one of the league’s best against one of the league’s up-and-coming teams. They were not disappointed.
The Hurricanes did their part once again, as defenseman Noah Hanifin scored the game-winning goal in overtime against the Blue Jackets, extending the team’s point streak to 13 games.
The atmosphere in Raleigh’s PNC Arena was surreal, with a feeling of “just maybe” settling in on fans of this team starving to get back into the playoffs. It is still a long shot, with even winning their remaining six games not an assurance that they will make it in. But, this team has proven in the month of March that they are not to be taken for granted.
Full Blue Jackets
Fans of the Blue Jackets are giddy about their team, and for good reason. Second in total points only to the Washington Capitals, fans are on the edge of their seats hoping for the best playoff position for their team. ‘Canes fans are on the edge of their seats hoping for a playoff position for their team. It’s been a season characterized by consistency for the Blue Jackets. While they’ve had the occasional down times, they have played very strong hockey this season more often than not.
There are few weak links on this year’s version of the Blue Jackets. Gaurav Verma wrote Thursday for the Johns Hopkins News-Letter that the Jackets are poised to at least make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, and possibly beyond. They are a very well-balanced team on offense and defense, with one of the league’s elite goalies, Sergei Bobrovsky, a legitimate candidate for the Vezina Trophy.
While the Jackets have gone from one of the NHL’s worst teams to one of its best in the past year, the ‘Canes are still building. One of the things that has been built into this very young team is a sense that they can win. I wrote recently that the Hurricanes are doing what they did last year, taking the season right down to the wire. But, something is different this time.
One key difference between last year and this year is that this group believes. After Thursday night’s win over the Jackets, I asked Hanifin about this year versus last year. Hanifin said, “The belief in here I think is a little bit different. I think We really do believe that we can do this. I think we’re playing great hockey lately. We got to keep it going. Our strategy has been taking it game by game and that’s what we got to keep doing.”
Jeff Skinner is one of the reasons that the belief is different. He has been playing all season with hunger and determination. His most recent effort showed that he believes the team can win, as he fired a wrister in to tie what was a 1-0 game with the Jackets late in the third period.
Previous Hurricanes teams might not have exerted similar effort to get the tie and then the win as the current team did against the Blue Jackets Thursday night. I asked Skinner after the game if the pressure to make the playoffs has him gripping or having fun. Skinner responded by saying, “No, I think we’re having fun. I mean you like that pressure, it’s better than the alternative.”
With 32 goals and 25 assists, Skinner has reasserted himself as the leader of the Hurricanes. Who knows what the next shift or period or game will bring? But, as long as they are playing, Skinner is going to be leading. He has matured exponentially this year, and it shows with his aggressive play.
— Brian Ray (@bmray10) March 31, 2017
Cam Ward told me he is feeling good and that he likes the pressure. “I mean I think you have to enjoy these kind of moments, “Ward said. “Yeah there’s pressure, but that’s essentially why I signed up to be a goaltender, you know to be able to thrive in these situations.”
Both Skinner and Ward said that the team is feeding off of one another and taking one game at a time. They believe they can win. I do, too.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.