Carolina was in control of its playoff destiny a week ago. Three straight losses have pinned them to the 9th spot in the East. A victory Saturday will draw them even with the 8th-place Rangers in points and games played.
Before that can happen, the Hurricanes (31-27-10, 72 points) need to overcome the Blue Jackets (31-27-9, 71 points) Saturday night in Raleigh. The outcome of tonight’s game will make a big statement on the team, one way or the other:
“We deserve to be here.”
Combined, Columbus and Carolina have lost 10 out of 10, the Blue Jackets having dropped their last 7 (0-4-3) to fall out of the playoff picture in the West. For the time being, Toronto’s three-game winless streak has helped to secure Carolina’s spot on the playoff bubble.
The 8th-place Rangers are 4-6-0 in their last 10, leaving the door open for a late entrant to the dance. Carolina won’t be the team to claim that spot unless they can start scoring goals.
The Canes have scored only five goals during the skid, including a 1-for-41 performance against rookie netminder Braden Holtby Friday.
Canes winger Tuomo Ruutu scored the only goal against Washington Friday. “I thought we had enough chances to score more goals than one,” Ruutu said in an interview with ESPN. “I didn’t think we played a bad game; we just didn’t finish it.”
A 2-for-40 performance on the man-advantage over the last 12 games (.050 percent) has seen the Canes’ power play drop to 23rd in the league (16.2 percent overall).
The Hurricanes have outshot opponents 98-84 during the losing stretch, but have been outscored 10-5. For a team that depends so heavily on even-strength scoring and run-and-gun contests, the goals are going to have to appear in bunches, and soon.
The team’s defensive numbers continue to float in the lowlier waters of the NHL. The Canes are in the bottom third of the league in goals against (3.0 per game) and penalty kill success (80.8 percent), ranking 23rd and 20th, respectively.
The team continues to allow more shots than any other club, 33.4 per contest.
Carolina is 10-5-2 against Western Conference opponents this season, but have dropped their last three games against Columbus. Netminder Cam Ward is 3-1-1 in his past five outings and leads the Hurricanes with 28 wins, a 2.68 GAA and .919 save percentage.
Ward has struggled in his career against Columbus, though, posting an 0-2-0 record in three games played with a 3.91 goals against average. Columbus goalie Steve Mason has allowed only 3 goals in two career starts against Carolina, both victories, but is winless over his last five.
Columbus has been a better team than its recent losing streak would suggest, but the Hurricanes need to take the victory to have a reasonable shot at the playoffs. Remaining matches this month include Tampa Bay, Washington and Montreal, and a rematch with 7th-place Buffalo looms.