As the NHL wraps up its unofficial first half of the season and heads toward the All-Star break, it may seem strange to hear the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres in the same conversation when it comes to the postseason.
But that’s just what an Eastern Conference playoff discussion might involve.
The teams meet Tuesday night in Buffalo, where the Sabres will try to continue their push toward a playoff spot, and the Hurricanes attempt to strengthen their hold on the No. 2 spot in the conference.
Buffalo enters the game one point out of the final wild-card spot in the East.
“That’s kind of our M.O. Let’s keep finding out how much better we can be,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “The next game is going to give us another indicator.”
The Sabres have won five of their last six games and have points in seven straight, despite coming off a four-game road stretch.
But Buffalo also has had three straight days off. Carolina has played twice since the Sabres’ last game, including Tuesday night’s 5-4 comeback victory against the Los Angeles Kings that ended with Sebastian Aho’s overtime winner.
The game Wednesday will be the final one before the break for both teams.
But the Sabres aren’t just playing out the string prior to the layoff; they’re gearing up to make another statement.
“The position we’re in, that’s going to be talk (regarding playoff possibilities),” Granato said. “That’s OK, that’s great, that’s even better. We’re comfortable with that and we’re excited that we’re even mentioned in that. But what doesn’t change is what’s at the core. They just love the next challenge.”
Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin released a letter to Buffalo fans this week. It read in part: “Now we’re almost at the All-Star break, and we’re in the race. We all know where we are in the standings and what these games mean. But the only way we can reach our goal is by keeping the same mindset. Just keep getting better, one day at a time.”
The Hurricanes will arrive on their own high, having won six straight and riding a nine-game point streak.
“It’s going to be a tough one,” Aho said of playing the Sabres. “Buffalo is a super-fast, skilled team.”
The Hurricanes had to rally from a 4-1 deficit in the third period Tuesday night to keep those streaks going.
“It’s all about confidence, just working hard out there,” Carolina winger Teuvo Teravainen said.
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour altered the lines for the third period against Los Angeles and the move paid off. If nothing else, it jump-started Carolina’s seventh comeback victory from a third-period deficit this season.
“Sometimes you get different looks, get some fresh looks,” Teravainen said.
Brind’Amour said he likes how the team responded to the changes after what he said might have been the team’s poorest period of the season when the Kings outscored Carolina 4-0 in the second.
“We just tried something that I’d thought about for a while,” Brind’Amour said. “We threw it together. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the comeback necessarily. Just as a group, in general, we started to play the way we were designed to do things.”
–Field Level Media