Blue Jackets-Hurricanes Preview
After getting the better of an old friend in his return to PNC Arena, the Carolina Hurricanes are still clinging to the slimmest of playoff hopes.
Although an Eastern Conference wild card is unlikely entering Saturday night's contest against the downtrodden Columbus Blue Jackets, the Hurricanes have played well since the trade deadline and got a glimpse of their future their last time out.
With only four games remaining, positive math remains in place for the Hurricanes (34-28-16), who trail Philadelphia by five points for the second wild card in the East. Detroit stands between Carolina and the Flyers for that spot.
The club signaled it was ready for a new era in February when it dealt captain and pending free agent Eric Staal to the New York Rangers in exchange for a prospect playing in Finland and two second-round draft picks.
Staal was given a warm reception upon his return to Raleigh on Friday before the Hurricanes rallied in the third period to beat the Rangers 4-3. The win gave Carolina points in 12 of 14 games since the deadline - a span in which the club has gone 6-2-6.
The Hurricanes have managed it despite a 2-for-21 slump on the power play, but the penalty kill has been outstanding with a 36-of-39 success rate in the past 16 games.
"This team continues to grow, develop and mature. That's what's happening," coach Bill Peters said.
"The growth amongst our group from training camp to now has been very good."
Victor Rask got the go-ahead score on a rare power-play goal with 10:54 left to help the Hurricanes deny New York in its bid to clinch a playoff spot.
What seemed more important moving forward in the wake of the Staal trade was the play of a few Carolina youngsters. In his fourth game since being recalled from Charlotte of the AHL, 23-year-old center Patrick Brown scored his first NHL goal in the opening period before assisting on Jeff Skinner's tying tally in the third.
Promising 21-year-old forward Sergey Tolchinsky, who posted back-to-back 90-point seasons in the OHL from 2013-15, made his NHL debut and picked up an assist on Justin Faulk's goal in the second, though he was sent back to Charlotte on Friday. Tolchinsky has had an outstanding rookie campaign in the AHL with 30 points and will be a player to watch in training camp this fall.
In its penultimate game at PNC Arena this season, Carolina will try to reach the 20-win plateau on home ice for the first time since 2011-12.
A season which began with an eight-game losing streak is ending in similar fashion for the Blue Jackets (30-39-8), who suffered their fourth straight loss and eighth in 10 games with a 4-3 defeat to the New York Islanders on Friday.
Brandon Dubinsky, Brandon Saad and Boone Jenner scored, and Sergei Bobrovsky made 23 saves for Columbus, which is also skating plenty of youngsters down the stretch.
The game marked the NHL debut for 19-year-old Sonny Milano, the 16th overall pick in the 2014 draft who was called up from Lake Erie of the AHL on Wednesday. Milano and fellow call-up Dean Kukan, a defenseman, each logged roughly 14 minutes of ice time.
Milano had 12 goals and 15 assists in 48 AHL games this season.
"He deserves a chance," coach John Tortorella said. "I'm anxious to see him play. He's produced for (Lake Erie) and we want to give him a chance."