NHL Playoff Race: Hurricanes, Rangers' Hopes Hang in the Balance Saturday

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NHL Playoff Race: Hurricanes, Rangers' Hopes Hang in the Balance Saturday
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With just one game remaining each, the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers sit tied with 91 points for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Both teams finish their seasons Saturday and hope to find that their destiny leads them into the postseason.

For now, the 'Canes sit inside in the picture while the Rangers are stuck in ninth. By way of a 35-34 tiebreaker edge in terms of non-shootout wins and a 6-4 points victory in the season series between the two teams (the second tiebreaker), Carolina is on top.

However, that may be very likely to change. New York hosts the New Jersey Devils at 12:30 ET, needing at least a point to stay alive. Then, the Hurricanes face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the RBC Center at 7:00 ET with the knowledge of what they need to do to get in.

The 'Canes need a regulation loss by the Rangers or a win in their own game to make the playoffs, in all likelihood. If both teams earn just one point, they will also go into the postseason.

On the other hand, the Blueshirts need a win and a Carolina loss or one point and a Carolina regulation loss for their dreams to be fulfilled. In other words, they do not control their own destiny.

No matter how it turns out, the path to this point has been a very interesting one for both teams. On March 13, the Rangers had 76 points and held a four-point lead on Carolina's 72 points, although, at that point, the 'Canes were more focused on catching Buffalo, who had 74. Since then, the Sabres are 9-2-2, the Hurricanes are 9-2-1 and the Rangers are 7-3-1.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

During that span, both teams have done some amazing things.

Carolina recovered from a second-intermission deficit twice to beat the Islanders and once to beat the Capitals, two teams who are a combined 48-3-8 when leading after 40 minutes of play. In a back-to-back including that very same Washington game as well as an affair with Montreal, the 'Canes won both matches despite being a combined 0-8-0 against the two teams in earlier games.

The Hurricanes have outscored opponents 38-24, with five of their nine wins being one-goal victories and Ward putting up two, almost three shutouts during the span.

New York recovered from a 3-0 deficit to Boston to win for the first time since the 1940s and took part in three 1-0 games out of four total games, which is a record not kept, but it probably would hold the record, at least in recent times.

Amazingly, they have only outscored opponents 30-25 over the time period.

Goal scoring has also been prolific for both competitors. The 'Canes have averaged 3.17 goals per game and have hit the six-goal mark twice while the Rangers have only averaged 2.72 goals per game but have scored five or more in a single tilt four times out of 11.

In their last 10 games, Hurricanes captain Eric Staal has four goals, eight assists and a plus-five rating, rookie phenom Jeff Skinner has seven goals, five assists and a plus-nine rating (he had just two goals and two assists in his last 12 appearances before that) and contract-year breakout Erik Cole has seven goals, two assists and two game-winning goals, adding to his nine GW's on the season, ranked fourth in the NHL.

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For the Rangers, it's been more of Henrik Lundqvist and a balanced scoring attack that's been winning them games.

But for now, let's just forget how they got here. That no longer matters; it's today's results that will determine which team makes the postseason and which team finishes just on the outside of the picture.

You can watch the early afternoon Rangers-Devils game on MSG and MSG Plus as well as, of course, on GameCenter Live.

New Jersey won the first two meetings this year between the two rivals but the Blueshirts have won the last three. New York is just 19-17-4 at Madison Square Garden, the fourth-worst home record in the conference, while New Jersey is 16-22-2 away from The Rock, the third-worst away record in the East.

This evening, hockey fanatics can follow the Hurricanes-Lightning contest on NHL Network, FS Carolinas and Sun Sports.

The 'Canes are 2-2-1 against their Tampa Bay foes this year, with the winner of each meeting scoring at least four goals every time. Carolina is 22-13-5 at home this season, the sixth-best home accord in the East, and the Bolts are 20-14-6 on the road, the seventh-best away record in the conference.

I will be running a live blog today following all games with playoff implications today, which will have live game updates, analysis, playoff picture breakdowns and a plethora of more interesting playoff race tidbits throughout the afternoon and evening.

Check back later for the link to the blog.

 

Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. In his two years so far with the site, he has written over 255 articles and received over 250,000 total reads.

Visit his profile to read more, or follow him on  Twitter.

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