What's the key to the Hurricanes turnaround?

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Yesterday one of our faithful readers asked why the Carolina Hurricanes weren’t getting much attention, despite being the hottest team in the NHL over the past month. Since we are doing our best to give equal love all around, we’ll oblige that request.

After enjoying something of a Cinderella run before being swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was hopeful that the Hurricanes would take the next step this season. They won just three of their first 20 games, putting themselves in a hole that is nearly impossible to pull out of in just the first part of the season. Now the Hurricanes are 13-3-0 since January 21st, and have started to pull away from the worst start imaginable for a team that had high hopes coming off a playoff year. They have an outside shot — still near impossible, but not unthinkable, 7 points back with 19 games remaining — of making the playoffs.

Even if they don’t complete a magical comeback, their latest streak combined with stellar all-around team play still makes for a remarkable story on the season. What is that changed, what happened with the Hurricanes to take them from worst in the NHL to a team that none want to face right now?

I decided to ask the experts. I turned to Bob H. Waeghe of CanesCountry.com to get his take on what’s been the key to the Hurricanes’ turnaround.

While the Carolina Hurricanes are presently riding a seven game winning streak, the successful stretch is really just an extension of much improved play since the first of the year. What is the club doing differently now than they were before? For one thing, the leader of the team is finally healthy.

It’s probably no secret that the Hurricanes go as Eric Staal goes. The center started out the season with a bad groin issue and things deteriorated from there. He eventually had to sit out 10 games, ruining a period of over three years where he hadn’t missed a game. When he returned to the lineup, he still was not 100% and had to be moved to winger because he was unable to take faceoffs. But on January 21st, that all changed.

Staal was named team Captain, he moved back to center, and he went on a career best 11 game point streak. Since that fateful day when Staal was given the captaincy, the Canes are 12-3-0 and have out-scored their opponents 51-29. The center has 19 points, (10G 9A), during that 15 game span.

Of course hockey is a team sport and it takes more than one man to be successful. The entire team has picked up their energy. The defense has improved, the goaltending has been solid, (even without an injured Cam Ward), and the special team play has been excellent. There are several heroes who have contributed.

The Canes have gone from being dead last in the league to being within sight of an eighth place playoff spot. The odds certainly indicate that they will not make it, but they have not given up. Their new Captain won’t let them.

It’s going to be an uphill battle for the Hurricanes, and they’ll have to find some way to continue this incredible streak to even get close to a playoff spot. Even if they can’t, it’s still could be one heck of a wild ride to the finish.

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Stars end Capitals’ winning streak, pass Blackhawks for West lead

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For two periods, the Dallas Stars seemed to say, “Are you sure the Washington Capitals are the best team in the NHL?”

They chased Braden Holtby and built a 4-0 lead through those first 40 minutes, and that was enough … but barely. The Stars beat the Capitals 4-3 on Saturday, which accomplished the following:

  • Dallas ended Washington’s winning streak at five games. The Stars have now won three straight.
  • This win slides the Stars ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the highly competitive Central Division. While both teams sit at 77 standings points, Dallas holds three games in hand.
  • By passing Chicago, the Stars now lead the Western Conference as a whole.

Impressive stuff. Some might even call it a statement game, although others may hold that nail-biting ending against them (possibly arguing that the Stars’ flaws may come back to haunt them in the playoffs).

Dallas’ biggest concern likely has little to do with doubters. Instead, they must monitor the statuses of forwards Tyler Seguin and Cody Eakin.

Long story short, the Stars are red-hot, yet bigger challenges likely lie ahead.

Blackhawks fall to Ducks in OT, lose Hossa to injury

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The Chicago Blackhawks are on edge on Saturday, and it’s not because of what’s currently a close game against the Anaheim Ducks.

(Not that they’re indifferent toward a match against their opponents from last year’s conference final match, mind you.)

Instead, the Blackhawks are quite concerned about the health of Marian Hossa, who needed help off of the ice following an awkward, scary-looking crash into the boards. (Hampus Lindholm delivered the hip check that sent Hossa sprawling, in case you’re wondering.)

You can see that moment in the video above, while My Regular Face’s GIF also captures that troubling moment:

It’s too early to tell if Hossa will bounce back or miss some time from this. Stay tuned for potential updates.

Update: Joel Quenneville seems optimistic about Hossa, broadly speaking:

Ryan Getzlaf scored the overtime game-winner as the Ducks won 3-2 (OT).

Understatement: Saturday was a rough night for Panthers

Nashville Predators center Colin Wilson (33) checks Florida Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau (11) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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If it weren’t for Mike Yeo and the Minnesota Wild, you could argue that the Florida Panthers suffered from the worst night so far.

You can see that Saturday was unpleasant merely from looking at the scoreboard: the Nashville Predators pummeled the Panthers by an unkind score of 5-0.

The pain goes beyond that … literally so.

For one thing, Quinton Howden suffered an upper-body injury and did not return. That’s no good, but if you want to feel sick to your stomach, footage of Brandon Pirri‘s likely lower-body injury (ankle maybe?) may do the trick.

(Seriously, you may be happier if you don’t look.)

The Panthers didn’t make an announcement about Pirri one way or another, so we’ll see if he somehow avoided anything significant.

Either way, it was a night this team would like to forget.

Fractured jaw from fight sidelines Chris Stewart for 4-8 weeks

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It’s unlikely that Chris Stewart will generate another 30-goal season in the NHL, but he still might be missed by the Anaheim Ducks.

The team announced that the ornery forward is expected to miss four-to-eight weeks with a fractured jaw. If that’s the recovery window, Stewart may go into the playoffs a little rusty (if he can get in any regular season games at all).

The Ducks didn’t elaborate, but the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline believes that the injury happened during a fight with Dalton Prout of the Columbus Blue Jackets. You can see that brawl in the video above.

One bright side for Anaheim: if they believe that they need to replace what Stewart brings to the table (rugged play with a dash of offense), then at least this injury happened before the the Feb. 29 trade deadline.