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‘Belief system is very strong’ for red-hot Hurricanes

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) In less than a month, the Carolina Hurricanes have gone from last place in the Eastern Conference to the edge of the playoff picture.

The Hurricanes enter the weekend four points behind Boston for the East’s eighth and final playoff spot with seven games remaining.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround for a team that earlier this week inherited the dubious distinction of owning the NHL’s longest active playoff drought – and all it took was earning at least one point in a franchise-record 13 straight games.

Heading into the final week of the season, they’ve got a chance – a slim one, but a chance nonetheless – to shed that label as quickly as they earned it.

“The belief system is very strong right now,” coach Bill Peters said.

They know they’ve got to remain near-perfect, though, starting with Saturday night’s game against Dallas and continuing through next week’s two-game road swing through playoff-bound Pittsburgh and Minnesota.

“It’s fun. That’s why you play the game,” said forward Jeff Skinner, who along with many of his teammates has never skated in a playoff game. “I think you look at guys are feeding off of each other, guys are playing well, we’re playing well as a team and it’s a lot of fun coming to the rink when you’ve got things on the line. Hopefully we can keep this thing rolling and keep it that way.”

The only other team in club history to earn points in 12 consecutive games went on to hoist the Stanley Cup in 2006.

These Hurricanes have gone 9-0-4 since March 9 to vault back into contention. They broke that 11-year-old club record Thursday night with a 2-1 overtime victory over Columbus in which Skinner scored the tying goal with 4:20 left in regulation, then set up Noah Hanifin‘s winner 2:16 into OT.

A pair of first-round draft picks has led the way: Skinner (2010) scored goals in a career-best six straight games, piling up nine points in that stretch, and Elias Lindholm (2013) had either a goal or an assist – or both – in 11 of those 13 games.

“We absolutely have a shot here to do this,” said Hanifin, their first-round pick in 2015.

Carolina’s string of seven straight years without making the tournament became the longest in the league when Edmonton clinched its first playoff berth since 2006. Coincidentally, the Oilers’ last appearance in the postseason came in 2006 – when they lost in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final to Carolina.

The Hurricanes’ only playoff berth since that championship season came in 2009 – when they won two early-round Game 7s to advance to the Eastern Conference final. Since then, they haven’t been close very often, finishing at least 10 points back in each of the last five years.

It wasn’t long ago that things looked bleak once again. Carolina was in last in the East on March 4 with 60 points, one behind the Detroit Red Wings, after a home loss to an Arizona team that remains the second-worst team in the league.

The Hurricanes have been tough to beat ever since.

“When you’re playing well, you want to get back out there,” said veteran goalie Cam Ward, the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP. “We’re starving to go to the playoffs, but you can’t do it all in eight games. You’ve got to take one game at a time and not look too far in the future. We’ve been doing a good job of taking care of ourselves and coming to the rink each day and trying to win the day. … Winning’s fun, so we’re having a lot of fun.”

Follow Joedy McCreary at http://twitter.com/joedyap

Video: Whoa, this is one sweet Mike Hoffman backhand goal

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Monday’s game won’t help the Ottawa Senators defy critics about last season running on luck, at least in that it doesn’t count in the standings.

Senators sniper Mike Hoffman didn’t seem to care.

Hoffman owned last night’s pre-season NHL highlight reel (sorry Nico Hischier), scoring two very different goals.

The best one can be viewed in the video above this post’s headline, as he burst through the Maple Leafs defense for a ridiculous backhander on the rush. Wow.

His first of the night was memorable for a different reason, as Hoffman shook off a near-miss (eventually) to score this goal.

Weird/cool/good, indeed.

Prediction: Hoffman will score a lot of goals that will “count” in 2017-18, too.

Wild extend captain Mikko Koivu’s contract for two years, $11M

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Minnesota Wild fans fearing that the 2017-18 season could be Mikko Koivu‘s last can breathe a sigh of relief, and that suspense didn’t even carry into opening night.

Instead, the Wild signed Koivu to a two-year contract extension worth $11 million.

That $5.5M cap hit kicks in during the 2018-19 campaign and ends after 2019-20. It represents a minor cut in pay for Koivu, as he’s entering the final year of a deal with a $6.75M cap hit.

Koivu, 34, enjoyed a strong first season under Bruce Boudreau, becoming a Selke finalist for the first time in his underrated career. He’s been Minnesota’s captain since 2008-09.

Koivu’s deal would qualify as a 35+ contract, according to Cap Friendly.

The Finnish forward likely valued stability, maybe taking a little less in AAV for the sake of peace of mind.

This continues a busy week-or-so for the Wild, who also broke their impasse with RFA Marcus Foligno by handing him a four-year, $11.5M deal.

Opinion: this Koivu deal is a much, much easier decision to justify, even taking into account his advanced age.

Predators captain announcement looming; they have some great options

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Multiple reporters* indicate that the Nashville Predators will name their captain (and alternates) on Wednesday.

Mike Fisher briefly held the title, and before him, Shea Weber wore the “C.” Both were safe, obvious choices; this time around, there are some intriguing options. The Tennessean’s Adam Vignan reports that the Predators themselves realize that there are quite a few logical captains in their midst (which probably isn’t a bad problem to have).

“It’s totally different this time around,” Pekka Rinne said. “I think Mike last year, I think everybody saw that coming. Everybody agreed. Everybody was really comfortable with it. I think now we have, in my opinion, at least four great options to choose from.”

Note: the Predators would be wise not to pull a Canucks with Roberto Luongo as captain experiment, even if Rinne’s easily one of the team’s leaders.

Some of the most obvious options include young-yet-veteran defenseman Roman Josi, big-dollar-center Ryan Johansen, and star blueliner P.K. Subban.

(Honestly, though, it’s difficult to imagine Subban wearing the “C” after all the weird, Listerine-scented stuff with the media happened during the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.)

As strong as those options are, it sure feels like Josi is the favorite, especially since he’s been around longer than Subban, Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson.

Vegas oddmakers agree:

And so do reporters covering the team on a day-to-day basis:

One moment of devil’s advocacy, though: Subban, Johansen, Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, and Mattias Ekholm all have more term on their contracts than Josi, who is a bargain at $4M for three more seasons.

OK, that’s kind of a weak argument, but hey … sometimes it’s a pain to have to deal with captain questions so often, and you never know if the team might determine that Josi is expendable, considering their deep war chest on the blueline.

Nah, Josi’s probably the easy and correct choice. Right?

* – Including Cory Curtis of WKRN-TV and Justin Bradford of 102.5 The Game.

Duchene dusts off ‘one day at a time’ for Avalanche trade questions

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The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers posted an exclusive video interview with Matt Duchene, who was verbose …

… Compared to the terse statement he provided, without questions, last week regarding what must seem to him like ubiquitous Colorado Avalanche trade rumors.

Check out Duchene’s comments in the video below, which seem to mix saying a lot of the right things – and finding a new way to use the “one day at a time” cliche – with a little bit of edge that makes you wonder how well he’ll contain his frustration in other situations.

How often will he be available for such questioning on the road, particularly in big media markets and/or around reporters covering teams who’ve long been connected to Duchene?

Either way, Chambers’ video is another reminder that, for all the times people roll their eyes at canned responses during press conferences and locker-room interviews, reporters can get less-guarded moments where you can parse out greater truths.

(And, hey, it’s nice to give Duchene a chance to make faces that seem a little less … depressed?)

Chambers transcribes an especially intriguing part at the end of the interview (click here for more transcriptions from Chambers at the Denver Post, if video isn’t an option or your preference).

What if he’s not traded? “I’m not looking that far (ahead),” he said. “I’m taking one day at a time.”

Hmm, interesting, right?

/Refreshes the #FreeDuchene hashtag.