The Reuters global sports blog
Carolina Hurricanes storm towards playoffs
Like their name implies, the Carolina Hurricanes are the ones blowing away the opposition.
Carolina, an Eastern Conference contender, stormed to its seventh successive win with a tough 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Thursday. The triumph, before a sellout crowd in Raleigh, was a team-record 10th consecutive home win.
Strong netminding and improvement elsewhere have turned a team that two months ago was trying to find itself into the leader of The Hockey News’ NHL power ratings.
“It starts with the goaltender,” leading goal scorer Eric Staal said of netminder Cam Ward. “He has been very, very solid.”
Ward, who sparked the Hurricanes to a 10-1-2 record for March to earn the NHL’s First Star of the month, is playing like the netminder who led Carolina to the 2006 Stanley Cup.
“Cam has been so good that it brings confidence to everybody else,” said right wing Chad LaRose.
Yet, as hot as the Hurricanes are, they have not locked up an Eastern Conference playoff spot with 100 percent certainty.
The conference race is that close behind the first three teams – Boston, Washington and New Jersey.
Carolina held fourth after Thursday’s games with 93 points. But the next two teams – Philadelphia and Pittsburgh – could leapfrog the Hurricanes. Both have 92 points.
Saturday’s Pittsburgh at Carolina match-up is especially crucial to both teams. Only the top eight in each conference make the playoffs.
“And I’m not sure 93 (points) is going to get you there,” said Carolina coach Paul Maurice.
He, too, is part of the resurgence, having taken over the struggling Hurricanes in early December from the fired Peter Laviolette.
PHOTO: Carolina Hurricanes players Chad LaRose (R) and Jussi Jokinen celebrate LaRose’s go ahead goal against the New York Rangers during the third period of their NHL hockey game in Raleigh, North Carolina April 2, 2009. REUTERS/Ellen Ozier