So much has been at stake for the Carolina Hurricanes the past couple of weeks.
As this part of the schedule winds down, there’s bound to be a celebratory mood for Thursday night’s regular-season finale against the New Jersey Devils in Raleigh, N.C.
The Hurricanes hold the label of Metropolitan Division champions.
“We’re very pumped up that we won the division,” defenseman Brady Skjei said. “It gets you some confidence knowing that you’re playing well as a team and you played well throughout the whole entire year.”
The Hurricanes (53-20-8, 114 points) will have a chance to extend their franchise record for points in a season.
“You probably need to take a minute and just realize that it has been a pretty darn good year,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “What’s great, guys aren’t really that excited about it. You know there are bigger things we want to accomplish.”
Carolina holds a five-game winning streak, clinching the division with a 4-3 victory in Tuesday night’s road showdown against the second-place New York Rangers.
Rookie goalie Pyotr Kochetkov made his NHL debut Saturday and has appeared in three games, winning them all for Carolina.
“It’s unreal. It’s a great story,” Brind’Amour said. “Hopefully, it continues. Nothing fazes him. He looks like he belongs.”
The Hurricanes have been dinged by goalie injuries during the past couple of weeks. Frederik Andersen has been out with a lower-body ailment and he didn’t travel with the team for its just-completed, three-game road trip. Then Antti Raanta went out during Sunday’s game, though he was available as a backup Tuesday night.
“You have to go through some tough times to kind of grow,” Brind’Amour said. “I didn’t think we were going to cave because our goalie is out.”
Brind’Amour said there was no chance that Kochetkov would have been playing if not for the injuries.
The Devils (27-44-9, 63 points) have two games remaining and sit two points ahead of last-place Philadelphia in the Metropolitan Division. New Jersey wraps up its season Friday night at home against the Detroit Red Wings.
Across their last dozen games on the schedule, the Devils might play just twice against a team heading to the postseason — though a couple of Western Conference teams that they faced during this span might slip into the playoff mix. They lost Saturday by 3-2 in overtime at home to Carolina, which rallied from a two-goal hole in the last five minutes of regulation.
New Jersey is on a four-game losing streak (0-2-2). However, the Devils have secured at least one point in five of their last six road games, going 3-1-2 in those outings.
“We needed to improve our road play,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “We have to look for areas of improvement. Winning on the road is one.”
New Jersey’s 5-4 overtime setback Tuesday night at Ottawa came with at least a silver lining. The Devils reached the four-goal mark for the first time in seven games.
“There was a lot of good offensive stuff that we did, which allowed us to score goals,” Ruff said, though pointing out shortcomings on the defensive end.
As the 82-game regular season comes to a close, Brind’Amour said there should be a sense of pride even though the most important part for his group is still to come.
“This is long run,” Brind’Amour said. “It has been six, seven months of just grinding it out.”
–Field Level Media