Carolina Hurricanes hockey is on familiar ground. It’s the end of the season and the team is playing out a string of essentially meaningless games. At times it can be painful to watch the collective lack of effort, while at other times it can be very entertaining. There are only seven games left for the Hurricanes to play this season. After that, the real entertainment will likely begin, with a general manager to be hired, a draft to navigate and free agents to consider and possibly sign.
The Road Through Philly
It was only five or six weeks ago in early February that the Hurricanes were playing a game that had extreme significance against the Philadelphia Flyers. They and the Flyers were both at a crossroads in their pursuit of making the playoffs. The Hurricanes lost that game and realized the consequences. The Flyers used that win as part of a run that got them briefly to the top of the Metropolitan Division’s playoff heap.
While the Flyers have struggled lately to maintain their assured spot in the playoffs, the run of winning they enjoyed that began with their victory over the Hurricanes has allowed them to endure their recent losses without losing a spot in the playoffs.
Sam Carchidi wrote at The Inquirer in Philadelphia on Mar. 21 that the Flyers must end their slow starts if they want to make the playoffs. Carchidi summarized,
It’s a familiar refrain, and the poor starts need to end if the Flyers are going to be taken seriously in the playoffs — if they get there.
The words, “if they get there” affirm that if the Flyers are not careful they just might find themselves on the outside looking in, as the last couple of weeks are must-wins for them, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the New Jersey Devils.
On the other hand, the Hurricanes are not in the playoffs and there are no realistic scenarios with seven games left wherein the words, “if they get there” would be appropriate or viable.
Amidst the Pain They Entertain
While the play of the Hurricanes has been painful as their playoff hopes have withered, their games have been entertaining at times. For example, the ‘Canes defeated the New York Islanders 4-3 on Mar. 18 in the Barclay Center in Brooklyn. Goaltender Scott Darling played uncharacteristically well, and it was exciting to see him get the win. He stopped 26 of 29 shots and looked as if he were actually getting comfortable in goal for the Hurricanes.
The game saw four different Hurricanes score, Islanders’ Anders Lee knock in two power-play goals, and John Tavares notch three assists, causing the screams for management in Carolina to try to get him to the Hurricanes in the upcoming offseason.
Darling inspired such confidence that Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters had him suit up for their next game at home versus the Edmonton Oilers. Darling reverted back to the style of play that caused many to question his readiness to play at the NHL level, and the Hurricanes lost 7-3. There was speculation as to whether the Oilers would put up 10 goals, given the way it appeared that Darling’s defense had given up on him. It seemed that more times than not they were leaving him hung out to dry.
In two games there were a total of 17 goals scored, pure entertainment for those who love to see the lamp lit up often during games. Darling was despondent after the Oilers outing, but Peters did not blame him entirely, him too acknowledging the defensive breakdown. Center Victor Rask and defenseman Brett Pesce were both lost for the remainder of the season, having each sustained shoulder injuries.
Once again at home, the Hurricanes faced the Arizona Coyotes and another rousing hockey match ensued. This time 11 more goals were scored, with the Hurricanes miraculously coming out on top, 6-5. The most exciting part of this game was the coming out party of Valentin Zykov, who scored two goals and left many “Caniacs” wondering, “what if” he’d been brought up from the team’s AHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers earlier in the season.
The total of 17 goals scored in two games was now 28 in three games. Entertainment galore playing out on the ice for Hurricanes fans and fans of their opponents.
The Hurricanes won their third game in four Saturday night, beating the Ottawa Senators 5-2 in Ottawa. They will meet again Monday night in Raleigh. The offense has been rampant as 35 goals have been scored in the Hurricanes last four games. Zykov got on the score sheet twice again in this contest, this time with two assists. Defenseman Noah Hanifin returned from being out with a concussion and scored a goal for the Hurricanes. Cam Ward has been in goal for the past two tilts, and it is likely he will Monday night again, too.
Hurts So Good
All in all, the past four games for the Hurricanes have been extremely entertaining, especially for fans of games with a lot of goals. The painful part of the past four games is realizing that if this team had scored this way for most of the season, they’d most assuredly be in the playoffs. The addition of Zykov is a boost, that Peters says will take time to validate. Hopefully, this end-of-season pain will give way to new life for the Hurricanes next season, and the team will finally make it back to postseason play. If not, at least maybe they will keep on entertaining.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.