With four games remaining in the regular season, the path for the Carolina Hurricanes is apparent, although not clear of obstacles.
The Hurricanes are lodged in a battle for first place in the Metropolitan Division. It’s a trip to metropolitan New York that will define the final stretch for Carolina.
That stretch begins against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon at Newark, N.J.
Carolina (50-20-8, 108 points) is tied in points with the New York Rangers atop the Metropolitan Division.
The Hurricanes will embark on a three-game road trip, capped by a showdown Tuesday night with the Rangers. They will play the regular-season finale at home on Thursday versus New Jersey.
The Devils (27-43-7, 61 points) are playing out the string. They have five games remaining, with the only one figuring into the playoff pecking order coming against the Hurricanes.
Carolina has won its past two games, including a comeback Thursday night against visiting Winnipeg after going the first 39 1/2 minutes of the contest without scoring.
“We always have that (mentality) that if we play our game, we’ll get our goals,” Hurricanes left winger Teuvo Teravainen said. “Whatever the score is, doesn’t really matter. We try to play the same way.”
That’s the approach that has worked so far and that the Hurricanes will count on in the last week.
“They put their work boots on and come to work every night,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said.
The Hurricanes have five players with 20 or more goals for the first time in 15 years.
Part of that has resulted from an aggressive mindset.
“Just making sure we have the mentality of ‘everything hard, everything quick,'” defenseman Jaccob Slavin said.
Carolina’s last visit to New Jersey turned into a dud with a 7-4 loss on Jan. 22.
The Devils, who are coming off Thursday night’s 5-2 home loss to Buffalo, have won just one of their last four games (1-2-1).
“We didn’t grab a hold of that momentum,” New Jersey coach Lindy Ruff said of the latest outcome. “It was right there for us.”
On the plus side, defenseman Nikita Okhotiuk scored in his NHL debut.
“To look as comfortable as he did,” Ruff said. “I have nothing but high regards for how he played.”
In Ruff’s view, Okhotiuk was New Jersey’s best defenseman on Thursday. That shouldn’t have been the case, the coach said, given the experience of other blue-liners.
Ruff said the Devils failed to capitalize on what were some good power plays, extending the drought to 0-for-29 in their past 11 games. He said there were chances generated that didn’t pan out with goals.
“Just put it in the back of the net when you get your opportunity — or don’t miss the net,” Ruff said.
After seven games in a row without a power-play goal, Carolina has scored with the man advantage in two of its last three contests. Along with that, there were encouraging power-play shifts.
“We have to make sure that thing is firing on all cylinders going into the playoffs,” Slavin said of power plays.
–Field Level Media