A playoff berth appears unlikely for the Carolina Hurricanes, who have traded away several veterans in the last month.
That hasn’t stopped them from playing like they belong in the postseason, and they’ll look for an eighth straight victory as they visit the Florida Panthers on Saturday.
Streaks have been a big part of Carolina’s season, with the team’s current position in 14th place in the Eastern Conference largely the result of a 14-game losing streak early in the season.
Despite the absence of injured goalie Cam Ward(notes) and recent departures of key contributors Matt Cullen(notes), Scott Walker(notes) and Joe Corvo(notes) in the last several weeks, the Hurricanes (26-30-7) have won 11 of 13.
They’ve scored four or more goals in each of their last five contests, taking a 2-0 lead in the first seven minutes of a 4-1 win over Ottawa on Thursday night. Carolina had newcomers Alexandre Picard and Brian Pothier(notes) and minor-league callups Jay Harrison(notes) and Zach Boychuk(notes) in the lineup, with Boychuk notching two assists.
“It’s a good sign that whoever we’re putting in there, we’re working hard for each other,” veteran forward Rod Brind’Amour(notes) said. “That’s the spirited thing about this group is we are playing for the guy beside each other and the fans that are supporting us.”
The Hurricanes are still seven points out of a playoff spot with several teams in their way, but the fact the postseason is even a remote possibility is a surprise.
Goaltending has been a big reason why, with a youngster and a veteran performing well in place of Ward. While rookie Justin Peters(notes) has won his first three NHL starts with a 1.34 goals-against average, Manny Legace(notes) stopped 25 shots against the Senators to improve to 4-0-0 with a 1.99 GAA since returning from an eye ailment last month.
“The guys in front of him really want to play for him,” coach Paul Maurice said of the 37-year-old Legace, who is 3-1-0 with three ties and a 1.46 GAA in his career against the Panthers. He made 19 saves in a 4-1 home win over Florida on Feb. 9.
“It’s good to have a veteran guy who shows that he really loves the game,” Maurice added. “He’s been a good goaltender his whole life.”
The Panthers (25-28-10) certainly have a good goaltender in Tomas Vokoun(notes), but he has gotten little backing from an offense that had scored two or fewer goals in 14 straight games before Wednesday.
Vokoun finally got some help in a 7-4 win over Philadelphia as Florida snapped a seven-game losing streak. The Panthers got four points from David Booth(notes), who has two goals and four assists in two games since the Olympic break.
“Hopefully we got off the schneid here and we consistently give Voky some goal support,” said defenseman Bryan McCabe(notes), who also had four points. “God knows he’s been unbelievable for us this whole season, it’s about time we give him some goal support.”
The home team has won all five games between the Panthers and Hurricanes this season, and Florida will try to earn a 3-3-0 split of the season series.
Carolina can leapfrog the Panthers in the standings with a regulation win.