Hurricanes Face the Epitome of a Must-Win

The Carolina Hurricanes blow into the turf of the Super Bowl-winning Eagles Thursday night for another matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers. The fans in Philly are pumped. Their football team just won the Super Bowl, their NBA team is finally winning, thanks to “The Process” Joel Embiid, and their Flyers are looking locked into the playoffs. Life is good for “Philly fan.” It is a big opportunity for the Hurricanes, and the epitome of a must-win game.

On the other hand, the Hurricanes are still stinging from the consequences of the last time they played the Flyers.

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.

Petr Mrazek Philadelphia Flyers
Petr Mrazek, Philadelphia Flyers, Feb. 20, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Three weeks later that ripple effect has the Flyers with 78 points and in second place in the Metropolitan Division. The Hurricanes are still fighting to get a wild card spot, with 65 points placing them four points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for that spot. The game with the Flyers could be the start of something good for the Hurricanes, or a continuation of the winning run that the Flyers have been on – meaning that the ‘Canes current losing streak would go to seven games.

Hurricanes Must-Win Time

The game with the Flyers is likely the biggest of the season for the Hurricanes. With only 19 games remaining on their regular season schedule, they are getting to the point where continuing to lose will bring the words, “mathematically out of it” into play. Admittedly this whole season has been weird, with teams occupying the bottom of the Metropolitan Division and still being only a couple of points out of a wild card spot. But, time is fast becoming a factor.

There are any number of scenarios that can be contrived to show the “what if” in all of this – what if they lose tonight but then win their next three, etc. But, it’s reality time. The Hurricanes need a win. The Flyers would like a win, but they don’t need this game to maintain a playoff position. The Hurricanes need the emotional boost that comes from winning, as well as the two points added to their total.

Do it for Pride

Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis has basically left this team as constructed to its own devices to sink or swim on their own. In a post-trade deadline gathering with the media this past Monday, Francis explained that no player trades stood out as justifying giving up a lot to get what might just be a rental in return. He was asked if he thought this team could make the playoffs in its current form. Francis said,

Yeah, I do. It’s up to the guys in the locker room right now…Hopefully they can find a way to turn this thing around.

The gauntlet was laid down, the challenge was made. You guys can do it, so go find a way to win hockey games and make the playoffs. Francis may or may not really believe that the likes of Victor Rask, Lucas Wallmark and Phil Di Giuseppe can guide this team to the playoffs. He may have seen what others saw in Rick Nash now with the Boston Bruins, and deep down know that his team needs to add some quality pieces to make it to the next level.

But, it would be sweet indeed if Jeff Skinner and Sebastian Aho got white-hot and starting scoring goals equal to their talent. It would be sweet indeed to see the defense step up and shut teams down in ways that are equal to their talent. And it would be sweet to see the Hurricanes in the playoffs and this group being able to tell Francis, “You were right.”

Since that statement was made, the Hurricanes have played one game, against the Boston Bruins. They lost 4-3 in overtime, extending their losing streak to six games. But, they did get a point. A start at least. Even in the loss, goaltender Scott Darling had a respectable game, and hopefully that is the beginning of good things for him.

Scott Darling Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina Hurricanes goalie Scott Darling (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Team co-captain Jordan Staal is supposed to be back in the lineup against the Flyers. Staal missed the last two games due to a personal family tragedy in the loss of their infant daughter. His presence on the ice tonight will be a huge boost for the Hurricanes, and the thought and prayers of many go out to him and his family.

It’s a big game for the Hurricanes, and the Flyers will be ready. If the Hurricanes can play to their potential, they should have a great chance of winning. But, the Flyers are hot and not likely to stand around and invite the Hurricanes to have their way on the ice. It will be a typical matchup for these two teams – hard fought and whoever wins will have earned it, no doubt.