Any victory would have done. Carolina got the one they needed.
Cam Ward turned away 40 shots, more than half of them in a furious first period, and the Hurricanes kept the playoffs within reach with a 1-0 victory over Buffalo Tuesday night.
Carolina was a team on the skids coming into the game. They had suffered four straight losses, gathered only one point to show for it and the teams ahead of them were playing well. The Rangers handled the Islanders 6-3 earlier in the night, and a regulation loss to the Sabres would have meant a four-point swing in the wrong direction.
To speak nothing of the teams they needed to catch, Toronto, Atlanta and New Jersey ended the night tied at 70 points.
Instead, Cam Ward hoisted the team to a much needed victory. Ward earned his third shutout of the season on the night and brought his record to 29-23-9.
Despite being blanked on the man-advantage for a 7th-straight game, Carolina now sits two points behind Buffalo for the 8th spot, while both teams have played an even 70 games.
Two points in any fashion would have been acceptable, but the way the Canes won Tuesday’s game was perhaps ideal. It was a playoff-style game against a playoff-caliber opponent. The winning tally came from Brandon Sutter, a role player who chipped in a timely goal.
Carolina was outworked for stretches, losing the faceoff battle 39-30 and were outshot 40-33. Despite scoring early, Carolina held onto the slim lead for better than 40 minutes and earned the victory without ceding a point in an overtime.
After allowing 22 shots in the first, the Hurricanes limited Buffalo to 18 shots over the final two periods and killed each of the Sabres 3 power play opportunities.
The performance wasn’t without its sore spots. The power play went o-fer again, coming up empty on the power play for the 7th-consecutive game. The Hurricanes haven’t scored in their last 27 power play chances, and have landed only two man-advantage goals in their last 14 games (2-of-54). Since February, the Carolina power play has clicked at a rate of .037 percent.
If the club manages to get into the playoffs in spite of those kinds of numbers, they’ll be quickly eliminated because of them.
Carolina needs wins similar to Tuesday’s if it’s going to sneak into the playoff dance. The Rangers maintained their four-point edge over the Canes with the win over the Islanders, and the Devils moved to within four points with their own victory.
The West, It Ain’t
With a dozen games left in the season, the race for the East’s final playoff spots has finally become interesting, if not a little pathetic.
Eastern Conference teams ranked 6-12 were all in action Tuesday night, save for Toronto. Atlanta and Buffalo were held without points but lost those games to other teams on the bubble. Here’s how the standings shake out after the night’s action.
Of the teams listed, only Montreal appears to be a little safe, holding a 9-point lead on the 9th-place team heading down the stretch (injuries to Halpern and Plekanec won’t help). Other than Montreal, only New Jersey has maintained a good record as of its last 10 games. Consistency is key this time of year.
The numbers at left don’t reflect overtime losses, non-shootout victories and other algebraic jargon. This is highly speculative, works only if each of these teams maintains their respective winning percentages going back ten games, and is probably still mathematically incorrect.
So let’s have fun.
If those teams listed maintain their current paces – as far as winning percentages-sans overtime losses are concerned – New York will be the shoe-in by virtue of having the most current points and the second-best winning percentage among them.
With 12 games remaining, Buffalo’s .600 win percentage would earn them at least 7 victories, or 90 points at season’s end.
If New Jersey continues to win 8 out of every 10 games (23-3-2 going back to January, mind you), they’ll win at least 10 games, good for 90 points at season’s end.
All other teams would finish below 90 points.
The numbers don’t work out cleanly, and only become uglier once three-point games are factored in. If taken with a grain of salt, one can begin to see how the race might shake out in its final days.
Carolina, at least, has some work to do. If New Jersey maintains the pace they’ve been on since early January, they’ll be a safe bet to finish somewhere between 88-94 points, neck and neck with Buffalo. The Sabres, too, have maintained a good record since the All-Star break, and are only a season removed from a division title.
If the Hurricanes have ideas about getting into the dance, they’ll need a lot more from their power play. Cam Ward can’t go 40-for-40 every night.