I wrote an article prior to last night’s highlight game between Carolina and Buffalo, and said that while a win would be nice for Buffalo, it was nearly imperative for Carolina. I said that Carolina would either have to outshoot Buffalo or have their star captain Eric Staal tally some points in order to prevail. Well, I was wrong. It turns out Cam Ward has entered the proverbial zone, as he stopped all 40 shots fired on him last night. While Buffalo certainly registered a shot total deserving of a few goals, it was not the sustained onslaught that one might assume. The Sabres took a jaw-dropping 22 shots on Ward in the first period alone, but couldn’t quite keep up that blistering pace as Carolina did well to control a good amount of play over the last 40 minutes, and brought home a crucial 1-0 road victory to close to within 2 points of Buffalo for the last playoff spot in the eastern conference.
Looking at tonight’s slim NHL pickings, it is likely that Carolina’s game is again the most crucial, at least as far as qualifying for the playoffs are concerned. The Canes have a quick turnaround, as they are currently hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs, who sit four points behind Carolina. A loss tonight would all but end Toronto’s playoff hopes, but we’ve already written about that situation a few articles ago. On the flipside, a Toronto win would at least keep hope alive for them, and would also dampen the progress that Carolina made last night. And since I don’t consider Toronto to be a true playoff contender anymore, I would say this game is squarely about the Hurricanes. If they are able to consolidate last night’s break, then they would end the night even on points with 8th place Buffalo, who they host later in the season.
In other games tonight, Colorado travels to Vancouver to lazily skate through another confidence building exercise for their opponents. St. Louis heads to Anaheim for a game that is more important to the Ducks, who will pull into 8th place in the west with a win. And in the only other game on tonight’s slate, Washington checks into Joe Louis Arena for a rare date with the Red Wings. Both teams are 2nd in their respective conferences, and many are pointing to the possibility of this being a Stanley Cup Finals preview.
I’ll take Carolina, Vancouver, and Detroit at home, and roll the dice on St. Louis in a road OT victory.
*** Amended at 9:59p.m. *** With Ray Emery starting in net for Anaheim, I cannot pick against him. Too close to my heart. Good luck to him and to Jaro Halak in that game.