In the handful of days since the loss to the Winnipeg Jets, Carolina’s place in the Metropolitan Division standings got increasingly less secure. With the Columbus Blue Jackets defeating the Los Angeles Kings in overtime, coupled with the Washington Capitals defeat of Winnipeg, the Hurricanes have dropped out of their enviable spot. This is a bummer, but it is not a calamity.
Both Columbus and Washington only have a single game before the break for Sochi. Carolina has two — Friday against the Florida Panthers and the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. Should the Hurricanes push through both challenges, their position heading into the Olympic break should be a little more comfortable.
In the end, no matter the position it must be maintained. The Olympics — not the playoffs– begin this week. Of course it would be easier to head into the break sitting in a playoff spot, but there are only a handful of points separating the middle chunk of the Eastern Conference. While perhaps difficult, a slight stutter right before the Olympics would not be enough to completely derail the Hurricanes’ efforts to make their first playoff run since 2009. It would require some work, but it’s not impossible.
Key to this is the stability and health of goaltender Anton Khudobin. Despite having a great run in net, his solid reliability is an irreplaceable foundation Carolina can — and must — build their playoff hopes upon. No matter what happens with Cam Ward and whether or not he shows up is besides the point. Proof in the pudding; the Hurricanes play better with Khudobin.
With the first half of a weird season coming to a close, things are looking much further up than they seemed to be in October. However shaky the last week of February might seem, it’s not the panic button moment it appear to be.