"Not a chance."
That was the frank assessment of Carolina's playoff potential just a couple weeks back. And it came from someone affiliated with the team.
Of course, if he were speaking on the record, he would have offered up the standard "We're still in the hunt. Taking it one game at a time." But given the freedom to voice his honest opinion, well, there was no reason to fake enthusiasm for a team that appeared to be headed for a third straight DNQ.
Not that the Hurricanes were bad. They were like most teams living on the fringes of playoff contention: inconsistent. Night to night, you didn't know what you'd get from them. Every time you thought they'd turned the corner -- a gutsy 4-3 win in San Jose in early February seemed like a good building block -- they'd follow up with a couple of limp efforts (losing at home 5-0 to the Panthers and 5-1 to the Blue Jackets).
With six weeks to go, the Hurricanes entered March like lambs. Amazingly, they're about to leave it like lions.
While Eastern contenders Montreal, Florida and Buffalo seem content to wait for their opponents to take two steps back, Carolina's making bold strides forward. The Canes have tied their franchise record with nine consecutive home victories, and have a chance to break it on Thursday against the Rangers. If they win on Saturday in New Jersey, their 10-1-2 month will go down as the best March in club history.
While top contenders like Boston and Washington struggle down the stretch, the Hurricanes finally discovered that extra gear, setting themselves up to be a team no one really wants to face in the first round.
No one should compare this group to the one that won the Stanley Cup in 2006, at least not yet, but there's reason to believe it could enjoy a productive spring. For one,
"He was always technically sound, but I really like the way he battles," said an Eastern Conference scout. "You can see his lateral movement has improved . . . [and so has] his rebound control. He's not looked on as one of the real elite goalies because there's nothing spectacular about his game. But, you know, he's won it all before. That tells you all you need to know about his ability to compete."
The forward group is nowhere near as imposing as the one from 2006, when the Canes featured three legitimate scoring lines. But since the deadline acquisition of
And then there's
But the key to Carolina's turnaround is at the blueline.
With just six games left on the schedule, it's unlikely they will catch the Flyers and grab home ice in the first round. But you have to say this about the revived Hurricanes: they've got a chance.
Coming from almost any other owner, the soothing reassurances of job security would be a signal to a struggling coach that he ought to start boxing up the fine china and asking friends to recommend a reliable mover. But when
"In hockey, you always worry about if the coach has lost the team," Hicks told the
In 2007, media and fans questioned Hicks about the job of Liverpool coach,
Reviled as a clueless meddler by fans of baseball's Texas Rangers, Hicks deserves credit for leaving the hockey and football decisions to men savvier than he. The reality is that, despite the Stars' record, Tippett deserves
One more interesting nugget to be gleaned from that DMN interview with Hicks: the Stars are not finished paying the price for the
Guess that means Dallas will have to fill some pretty apparent needs on the blueline with everyone else's leftovers this summer. No matter how much they're offered, it's hard to imagine any agent telling his big name client to put off other deals while they lay down on the couch and interpret Rorschach patterns for the Stars. With cap constriction looming, teams only have so much money to go around, so free agents will be looking to make deals quickly before the competition that swells the pot dies down.
With the Stars likely to fail in their playoff bid, they'll need to make a big summer splash to generate some buzz next fall. If Hicks wants to sell tickets, he needs to drop this codicil quickly.
Returning to the subject of the World Championships, the Canadians should be able to load up on forwards from non-playoff sides, but might have to wait until the first round is over before stocking the blueline. Hoping to avenge last year's gold medal game OT loss to the Russians, Team Canada's tournament gets underway April 24 against Belarus in Zurich, Switzerland.
Among the frontliners they could have at their disposal:
The defense looks considerably less imposing.
The best news to emerge so far from the Worlds? Krokus has reunited!
The greatest metal band in Swiss history (suck it, Celtic Frost!) has penned