The Carolina Hurricanes need lots of wins and plenty of help if they’re going to have a chance to sneak into the playoffs.
Some of the Eastern Conference’s top teams might prefer if they don’t.
The Hurricanes have beaten the East’s top two clubs a total of three times in eight days, and they’ll get another crack at a division leader Sunday as they look for a third straight win against the visiting Buffalo Sabres.
Carolina (30-33-8) may have waited until it’s too late to emerge from the East cellar, but it’s played like a true postseason threat over the past two months.
The last-place Hurricanes had 37 points on Jan. 24, putting them 18 points out of the conference’s eighth and final playoff spot. Since then they’ve gone 15-5-1, earned more points than anyone in the league but Washington, and trail Boston by six points for the last berth.
Carolina’s last six games have come against current playoff teams, and they’ve fared particularly well against two of the East’s best. The Hurricanes have faced the Capitals and Penguins twice in that stretch, and improved to 3-0-1 against them on Saturday when rookie Jamie McBain’s(notes) first career goal with 0.9 seconds left in overtime gave his team a 3-2 win.
“We dug ourselves a huge hole in the first few months,” Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. “We’ve lost about 250 man-games to injury, and about all of them came in the first 40 games. We’re just gonna stay with it until they say we can’t keep playing anymore.”
Carolina lost goaltender Manny Legace(notes) to a lower-body injury in the second period when he was run into by Pittsburgh’s Tyler Kennedy(notes), but rookie Justin Peters(notes) came on to make 15 saves and improve to 6-2-0 with a 2.48 goals-against average.
It’s unclear if Legace—5-0-0 with a 3.43 GAA in his career against Buffalo — will be able to go Sunday.
The Sabres scored all of their goals in the third period of a 5-1 win over visiting Carolina on Nov. 28, but the Hurricanes’ offense showed up for two wins last month. Carolina scored three times in the third period of a 4-3 victory in Buffalo on Feb. 5, then Sergei Samsonov’s(notes) overtime goal sealed a win by the same score six days later in Raleigh.
The Sabres (38-22-10) have won their past two games to move seven points ahead of Ottawa and Montreal atop the Northeast Division, and their last two have come against Carolina’s rivals in the Southeast. Jason Pominville(notes) had a hat trick in Thursday’s 6-2 win in Tampa Bay, while Mike Grier(notes), Jochen Hecht(notes) and Patrick Kaleta(notes) scored Saturday in a 3-1 victory at Florida.
“We got it to the net,” Kaleta said. “That’s what we’ve been preaching for the whole season, getting pucks to the net. Look around the league, there’s a pretty goal here and there but they are mostly garbage goals and poking away.”
Ryan Miller(notes) improved to 5-1-1 with a 2.37 GAA since the Olympic break by stopping 31 shots against the Panthers, but he’s never had particularly great success at the RBC Center. Four of his six starts there have gone past regulation, and he’s 2-1-3 with a 3.21 GAA.