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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NHL on NBCSN: Injury-riddled Pens look to snap three-game skid against slumping Blackhawks

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Chicago Blackhawks at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Since the All-Star break, the Blackhawks have been one of the better teams in the NHL. Their terrific run over the last few weeks has not only allowed them to jump ahead of Minnesota for top spot in the Central, but it’s also enabled them to build a seven-point lead over their division rival.

But it’s not all perfect in Chicago right now. Despite the fact that they’re in a good spot in the standings, the ‘Hawks had a rough ride through Florida in the last few days.

On Saturday night, they were thumped 7-0 by the Panthers, and on Monday, they blew a 4-1 lead to the Tampa Bay Lightning before losing in overtime.

Their effort may have been better on Monday than it was on Saturday, but it still wasn’t enough to propel them to victory.

“I thought we were 100 percent better than we were last game,” head coach Joel Quenneville said after the loss to the Bolts, per the Chicago Tribune. “I know we had everything going our way there and we started getting cute in the neutral zone and had turnovers in that area, gave them rush chances.”

The performances in their last two games led defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to suggest that his team was “too comfortable” this late into the season.

The ‘Hawks have dropped three of their last four games (their only win came in a shootout victory over Dallas).

Now, they’ll have an opportunity to get back on track against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

The Penguins are having issues of their own, and it’s mostly injury-related.

Pittsburgh has been without Evgeni Malkin, Carl Hagelin, Jake Guentzel, Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, Olli Maatta and Ron Hainsey, and it’s clearly affected their play.

There’s a bit of good news on the injury front. Conor Sheary, who suffered a lower-body injury on Sunday, is expected to play tonight.

Malkin was able to skate on his own on Tuesday, and head coach Mike Sullivan hopes to get him back soon.

“Our medical staff has a good handle on it,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Tribune. “He’s going through a process both on and off the ice. He skated this morning, and he’s making progress, so we’re encouraged and we’re hopeful we’ll get him back sooner than later.”

Coming into tonight’s game, the Penguins have dropped three in a row to the Senators (shootout), Islanders (shootout) and Flyers.

The Pens aren’t in any danger of missing the playoffs, but they’re still battling for home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

Columbus’ win over Buffalo pushed them two points ahead of the Penguins (both have played 75 games). The Jackets also have four more regulation/overtime wins.

The Capitals, who beat Minnesota last night, are three points up on Columbus and five points up on Pittsburgh.

PHT Morning Skate: Joel Armia scored an amazing shorthanded goal you’ll have to see to believe

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Joel Armia has developed into a very useful player for the Winnipeg Jets, and on Tuesday night, he scored an incredible end-to-end goal that you won’t want to miss. He fought off one New Jersey Devil then got around two others before scoring this beautiful shorthanded goal. (Top)

–The Score breaks down the best “bang for your buck” contracts on each Canadian team. It’s not shocking to see Senators goalie Mike Condon on this list. The second-year netminder has been with three teams this season, but he’s come through in a big way for the Senators, and he only makes $575,000. (The Score)

–The ESPN Hockey writers put together a list of what they think the Vegas Golden Knights roster is going to look like after the expansion draft. Some well-known names like Andrew Cogliano, Jonas Brodin, Mikkel Boedker, Tomas Plekanec, Jonathan Marchessault, Carl Hagelin and Jakob Silfverberg all made the list. (ESPN)

–Elliotte Friedman’s “30 Thoughts” blog touched on some advice David Poile had for the Golden Knights now that the Oakland Raiders will be moving to Vegas. “You have to do your own thing. We created our ‘Predator Way.’ The Smashville idea and name. In-game entertainment fitting the market. Those things worked.” Friedman also wrote about Ken Hitchcock possibly returning to Dallas, and much more. (Sportsnet)

–Brampton Thunder forward Laura Stacey is the great-granddaughter of hall-of-fame defenseman King Clancy. Recently, Stacey decided she wanted to do a little digging into her great-grandfather’s career, and it really allowed her to get an appreciation for everything he accomplished. “Now I understand how hard he worked, how passionate and determined he was to be the best. Yes, it was a different era, but I can only imagine how hard he had to work to get where he was. As I get older, it makes it more special in that I know more the kind of guy he was.” (Canadian Press)

–The Montreal Canadiens have had some incredible defensemen come through their organization, but last night, Andrei Markov was able to reach an impressive milestone. By picking up an assist in a 4-1 win over Dallas, he tied Guy Lapointe for second in points by a defenseman in franchise history. Larry Robinson’s mark is pretty safe.

Rangers punch playoff ticket to wrap up night of clinched spots

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The New York Rangers weren’t ecstatic that Chris Tierney‘s 4-4 goal sent their game to overtime against the San Jose Sharks, but either way, getting beyond regulation punched their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday night.

For the seventh season in a row, the Rangers are in the NHL’s postseason. They fell to the Sharks 5-4 in overtime, so they haven’t locked down the first wild-card spot in the East … yet. It seems like a matter of time, however.

The Rangers have now made the playoffs in 11 of their last 12 tries, a far cry from the barren stretch when they failed to make the playoffs from 1997-98 through 2003-04 (with the lockout season punctuating the end of that incompetent era).

New York has pivoted from the John Tortorella days to the Vigneault era, and this season has been especially interesting as they reacted to a 2016 first-round loss to the Penguins by instituting a more attacking style. The Metropolitan Division’s greatness has overshadowed, to some extent, how dramatic the improvement has been.

This result seems like a tidy way to discuss Tuesday’s other events.

The drama ends up being low for the Rangers going forward, and while there might be a shortage of life-or-death playoff struggles, the battles for seeding look to be fierce.

Oilers end NHL’s longest playoff drought; Sharks, Ducks also clinch

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There’s something beautiful about the symmetry on Tuesday … unless you’re a Detroit Red Wings fan, maybe.

On the same night that the longest active NHL playoff streak ended at 25 for Detroit, the longest playoff drought concluded when the Edmonton Oilers clinched a postseason spot by beating the Los Angeles Kings 2-1.

The Oilers haven’t reached the playoffs since 2005-06, when Chris Pronger lifted them to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

In doing so, other dominoes fell. Both the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks also punched their tickets to the postseason.

The Sharks, of course, hope to exceed last season’s surprising run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks continue their run of strong regular seasons, even as memories of their Cup win start to fade into the distance. All three teams are currently vying for the Pacific Division title.

The Western Conference’s eight teams are dangerously close to being locked into place, as the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues are all close to looking down their spots as well.

Want the East perspective? Check out this summary of Tuesday’s events from the perspective of the other conference.