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Hurricanes face Canadiens with sights set on bigger goals

Mar 28, 2024; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA;  Carolina Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho (20) and center Seth Jarvis (24) look on against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes have marked off one item on the to-do list, but there’s more to accomplish.

They’ll play for the first time since securing a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference when they visit the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.

“Making playoffs is one thing, but we have a bigger goal in mind,” forward Seth Jarvis said. “So it’s a good start, but there’s a lot of stuff we have to take care of.”

The Hurricanes (46-21-7, 99 points) have at least one point in eight of their past nine games. It could be a case that Carolina, which has a chance for the best record in the Eastern Conference, is really clicking at the right time.

Sewing up a playoff spot so soon is a bonus, but there are additional steps to take in the final couple of weeks of the regular season.

“It’s the time of year you want to play hockey,” Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho said.

Carolina clinched a postseason berth for the sixth consecutive season — something that happened only one other time in franchise history and that came when the team was known as the Hartford Whalers — by blanking the Detroit Red Wings 4-0 on Thursday night.

“We still got a lot of work to do,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

The Canadiens (28-32-12, 68 points) are riding their first three-game winning streak of the season.

“That’s always our goal, to just keep building,” Montreal defenseman Mike Matheson said. “It’s nice to start getting those wins, too, for confidence and for better things to come.”

Coach Martin St. Louis returned to the Montreal bench this week after a leave of absence to be with son who sustained an injury during a hockey game. The team has picked up its past two victories with St. Louis back in charge, including Thursday night’s 4-1 triumph against the visiting Philadelphia Flyers.

Young defensemen have helped lift the Canadiens.

“To develop at this level, it’s not given, it’s earned,” St. Louis said. “It’s promising to see, at a young age, these guys have got a lot of experience.”

Matheson secured his first 50-point season with three assists Thursday night.

Aho posted his 250th career goal Thursday night against the Red Wings, tying for the third-most in Hurricanes franchise history. His 51 assists are two shy of his career-high mark of 53 in the 2018-19 season.

The Hurricanes have won the first two meetings against the Canadiens this season, though Pyotr Kochetkov, who’s expected to be Saturday night’s goalie, didn’t play for Carolina in either of those games.

Hurricanes winger Andrei Svechnikov has four goals against Montreal this season, but he has gone the past eight games without a goal and racked up just two assists during that stretch.

The Hurricanes hope that center Evgeny Kuznetsov can get into a groove. He has made some head-turning contributions since being acquired from the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline, but he’s also trying to find the right role on the team.

“He has that ability, right?” Brind’Amour said. “That’s the key. If we can just get him getting the puck in that zone, he’s creative and can make things happen.”

This will be Montreal’s second game in a five-game homestand. After Saturday, Carolina won’t play another road game until April 9.

–Field Level Media

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