Hurricane Weakens over Buffalo

Carolina misses opportunity in Buffalo (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)
Carolina misses opportunity in Buffalo (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

This one was supposed to be a layup.  A chip shot.  A gimme.  A *insert sports cliche here*.

The Carolina Hurricanes, sitting just three points out of the final Wild Card spot with an opportunity to cut it to one point with all other teams idle, traveled to Buffalo Tuesday night, to face the Sabres.  The same Sabres team the ‘Canes had not lost in regulation to since November 18, 2011.  The same Sabres team that is in last place in the NHL, already on the clock for the number one pick on June 27th.

But instead of a layup, it was an air ball.  The chip shot went wide right.  The gimme wound up in the bunker.  And the Carolina Hurricanes took a huge step back in their hopes for a playoff run; falling 3-2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Hurricanes Lose Control

While the cliché’s describing the ‘Canes inexplicable loss last night are as plentiful as Sabres’ losses this season, the game itself was anything but.  The ‘Canes were able to control the flow of the game, outshooting Buffalo 38-18.  They drew more penalties; six to the Sabres’ two.  But, at the end of the night, the Hurricanes could not control the outcome of the game.

And they may have lost control of their playoff destiny, as well.

Had the Hurricanes finished off the Sabres last night, they would be waking up this morning just one point out of the playoffs.  Better yet, they would be doing so with one game in hand (58 games played to 59) to Ottawa, Washington, and New Jersey.

Instead, the Hurricanes remain the same three points behind the Red Wings for the final spot.  Only now, they spotted everyone a game in the standings.  And it only gets harder from here.

The Carolina Hurricanes are in the midst of a five-game road trip to open the final part of their season.  The remaining opponents (Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, and San Jose Sharks) are all currently in the playoffs, with much more at stake than the Buffalo Sabres.

All the Hurricanes can do now is hope to steal one or two of the next four, and hope the teams they are battling for the final playoff spot can add some negative cliché’s to their resume as well.

After all, they play the games for a reason.

Checking in on the Goalie Situation

Last night’s game was the type of performance that makes Jim Rutherford’s job much more difficult as the trade deadline approaches.  Cam Ward, who only had to face 18 shots against the league’s worst offense, could not backstop the ‘Canes to a much-needed win.

And the question on everyone’s mind; could Anton Khudobin have won that game for Carolina?

To those who have been paying attention, the answer is yes.  I said before, I believed Carolina should stick with Cam Ward.  After last night’s performance, I’ll be picking up my ticket for the Anton Khudobin bandwagon.

Call it a knee-jerk reaction if you must.  Fact is, last night’s Cam Ward is the one we should be used to, not the one we should be surprised at.

Cam Ward allowed three goals on 18 shots.  It was his ninth-straight start in which he allowed at least three goals with a save percentage at .900 or below.  In contrast, Anton Khudobin has only seen those stats five times this entire season.

Perhaps Cam Ward should be cut a little slack.  After all, it was his first start since New Years Eve.  But the Hurricanes do not have time to wait to see if Ward can snap out of this slump.  Their playoff lives are on the line and they must go with the goalie that is hot now.  Not one that was hot a couple of years ago.

[For a look ahead at the rest of the week for the Carolina Hurricanes, check out my Hurricane Forecast]