They’ll drop the entire top half of the Western Conference.
It’s actually kind of weird to think about, but with the exception of the Chicago Blackhawks, Carolina has at one point or another defeated every one of the top five teams in the West. The Anaheim Ducks, Colorado Avalanche, San Jose Sharks and now the St. Louis Blues have all fallen to the Hurricanes — and even Chicago went to overtime.
In a 3-1 defeat of St. Louis on Friday night, Carolina came out like a completely different team. It was some of the most dominant hockey they’ve played the entire season, and de facto starting goalie Anton Khudobin was unflappable. Looking at St. Louis’ record, nobody would have batted an eye at a Hurricanes team playing with conservative respect. That’s not what happened.
The biggest sign of this fearlessness was watching Jeff Skinner throwing the puck on net with total abandon. Not usually known for shooting power, Skinner was putting absolute cannon blasts on Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak. It was quite out of character, but it worked. Skinner was credited with the game winner on top of a team-leading six shots on goal. Skinner just stopped caring.
So why then can Carolina come out and play fearlessly against the West, yet struggle with the Eastern Conference as a whole? It’s hard to say.
Geographic identity crises aside, the current situation breaks down as such. First, Carolina just slipped into third place in the Metropolitan Division, placing it firmly entrenched in a playoff spot. The last three games before the 2014 Winter Olympics break are all home games and save for the are against teams at the bottom of its respective conferences. Offense is coming, penalty minutes are way down and Khudobin is making his case for the legitimate starting job.
The western road trip through California immediately following the Olympics will be the exact boost needed to power the team through the Eastern Conference gauntlet that is the month of March. Knowing it has already brought down Anaheim and San Jose at full strength will make the Los Angeles Kings a moot point, as it comes down the six-week stretch.