Posted March 20, 2009
In the midst of all this March Madness going on around us, the Carolina Hurricanes will take another step towards solidifying a playoff spot as they host the New York Islanders tonight. It was a well-timed effort against the Martin Brodeur-less Devils on Wednesday they might prove to be one of the Canes most important victories of the season.
The importance of this win can be seen on many fronts. Yes it came on the "first game back" from a long road trip which even with playoff ramifications can be a stumbling block. It came against a quality opponent regarded by many as the best team in the East at the moment. It came on a night when everyone else is watching and the Canes who along with Pittsburgh have the fewest games remaining, needed a win to apply the pressure on all the "chasers". In addition, there were individual stories like the start in the first 20 where the Eric Staal, Erik Cole and Tuomo Ruutu trio set a breakneck pace to the game the Devs couldn't catch. The continued balance scoring of the Brind'Amour line which gave a highlight to remember. The special teams that were letter perfect. Lastly, don't forget the play of number 30, who bailed out the Canes in the second period once again.
For me, the most important aspect of the win has to do with team confidence. This is the most important intangible that has to tangible to the naked eye at this time of the year. All you have to do is watch the Montreal Canadiens right now and you will see a team with zero on the team confidence meter. The Hurricanes were at times outplayed on their recent road swing. They were in a position to lose every game. As you know they didn't win one but did manage to "gut out" two points. The coach likes to points to the schedule and we will give him that based on the way the Canes responded out there and in the first game back. As we pointed out in this space before the first game in Chicago, they never came apart at the seams. Their "team game" remained in place. You see that has everything to do with confidence. If a team believes in how they are playing with and without the puck in all three zones that can go through a stretch like they did and to use Paul Maurice's words, "get through it." By returning home as they did, they proved that they are a together group positioned to make the playoffs.
The most important thing they could do was prepare in the right way. The Canes used the final major spacing in their schedule to refresh and be ready for a Devil team that had played the night before. One area of their game that needed to improve was their defensive play. Yes they gave up in access of 40 shots versus the Devils, but as crazy as it may sound it was one of their best defensive efforts of the season. They were sound in the neutral zone and did not allow the Devs very much transitional speed. They kept New Jersey on the outside on the attack. That was a big improvement over pockets of time on the road trip. They cleared out the area in front of Cam Ward. I call upon you to remember the Steve Begin goal in Dallas and there was none of that on Wednesday. These are the areas of the game that have been the biggest challenge for this team all season, the areas that this coaching staff have been constantly schooling. The home town boys answered the call. By doing so reinforced a growing team confidence that will lead them to where they want to go.
Tonight, Scott Gordon will lead New York Islanders crew into Raleigh that is 12-9-4 in their last 25. They are young, positioned for next season and are playing without any pressure. Ah yes, we will hear all the cliches today about "how these are not easy"... "don't take them for granted"..., "don't look by this group and see Washington" etc. Like most cliches overused but applicable. Still there is no reason to lose this one tonight. The Hurricanes just need to apply themselves and based on their foundation and Wednesday night's well timed effort, this month's madness should continue. There doesn't appear to be a crack anywhere in their make-up. Timing is everything and the Hurricanes proved on Wednesday they were ready to seize the moment. Don't slip up now, otherwise what do chalk it up to? A guess it will be a case of bad timing which no one needs.