Nobody is denying that the Carolina Hurricanes put together a nice little run for themselves to open 2014. Nobody actually expected it to last the whole season, and it was somewhat of a safe assumption that they’d drop a game at some point.
The streak finally closed out at five after Carolina took a 3-0 loss at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday night. This is not to take anything away from the Hurricanes. They were in no way as terrible as they have been in the past; it’s just that Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was that on his game. When you have a talented goaltender who shows up already in the zone, there’s really not a lot you can do about it. The Hurricanes played the Blue Jackets exactly as they were supposed to. They took very few penalties, threw Jeff Skinner on net whenever possible, let Alexander Semin do his thing and stood behind goalie Anton Khudobin.
Carolina is still rocking a 2.87 team GAA, placing them almost in the dead center of the NHL in that category. That’s not too horrible when you figure in some of the absolute shellackings they took earlier in the year. So to only give up three goals in a game and none in the second period — where they generally give up a ton — is not all that horrible. 36 shots on goal in the game with 11 blocked shots (BkS) and 17 hits shows a huge improvement over previous losses.
When the rubber meets the road, the Hurricanes still played like the team everyone knows they can be. Sometimes you just go up against a goaltender and a defense having a better night than you planned for. These things happen. Sunrise, sunset.
What absolutely cannot happen is for the team to retreat back into their shame holes and think they are a disaster again. It’s been pointed out repeatedly that recovering from a loss is absolutely not Carolina’s strong suit. Previous streaks closing out have resulted in drift racing level skids that are almost painful to watch. How the team reacts to this loss is almost as important as how they played in it.
The Metropolitan Division is pretty wide open at this point. With the New York Rangers only two points ahead and the Washington Capitals three points up, sliding into a third place slot before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics break can easily happen. The Rangers have made a science out of choking, and with the Alain Vigneault experiment seemingly going up in smoke, they are ripe for the picking.
Should the Hurricanes decide to play like they’ve done this before, going into the Olympics break sitting in a playoff spot can be done. It all comes down to who wants it more. If they are going to be content with being a streaky team with occasional flashes of brilliance then they also need to be content with playing golf in May instead of playoff hockey.
With two days off before the Calgary Flames come to Raleigh, it’s time for the Hurricanes to take a good long look in the mirror and ask themselves if they want to be winners or if they want to be losers. Either one is completely attainable, and the choice is entirely theirs.