On Thursday night, the Hurricanes lost a game they needed to win. They lost it badly. The score was 4-1, but it wasn't even that close. To make matters worse, they lost two key players along the way, and neither is expected to make an immediate return.
I won't rehash the entire game, but Carolina's play was characterized by bad passing, miscommunication, failure to stay on side, and a terrible effort by the special teams. Going into the game, they had a loose grip on the #7 playoff seed in the East, and they needed to win this one to strengthen their hold. Meanwhile, the Rangers were on the outside looking in; desperate for standings points.
The near-capacity crowd was late arriving. For about the first 10 minutes, the seating bowl looked the way it used to look in 2003. By the end of the first, it filled in. Unfortunately, the guys on the ice never did show up. Cam Ward was the only one present. Even Frantisek Kaberle, who is usually solid as a rock, had a bad night.
To make the outcome of the game worse, two key players are out with injuries. Defenseman Bret Hedican suffered a concussion in the second period. The fact that he didn't return is bad news. This means he'll have to take one of those baseline tests. The players hate these and they usually result in being put on the PUP list. Hedican apparently had a concussion earlier this season, but it was hidden. If that's true, it looks even worse. At his advanced age, two concussions in a short timeframe is very bad news. Suddenly, the overabundance of blueliners isn't an issue anymore. Maybe Anton Babchuk will get called back up. Just a few days ago, he decided to quit being a baby and report to Albany. Then again, maybe JR will send him a message by keeping him down there.
Justin Williams also left the game in the second period with what they're only calling "upper body". According to the N&O, it isn't insignificant. Coach Laviolette would only say that he's "banged up". I don't remember seeing the play on which he got hurt. I just remember not seeing him at all in the third.
Erik Cole and Cory Stillman are already hurt. Now Viva. Three of the Canes top six forwards are out for an unknown amount of time. I don't think that calling up the likes of Dave Gove and Keith Aucoin is the answer. The Canes will have to make a trade. They'll have to do it now. Either that, or they'll have to abandon ship. This is the time to make a decision. There's plenty of cap room and plenty of big name forwards out on the market.
The clock is ticking. February 27 3:00 pm is the cutoff.
Buffalo suffered a huge blow last night, too. They lost Maxim Afinogenov for the remainder of the regular season with a scaphoid fracture and Jiri Novotny for an indefinite period with a tweaked left ankle. Meanwhile, Tim Connolly has suffered a setback and might not play at all this season. Defenseman Jaro Spacek has a broken hand and will be out for at least a few more weeks. Paul Gaustad is out for the rest of the year with an ankle injury. Afinogenov and Spacek are huge cogs in the wheel and the others are more than just "minor players". The problem in Buffalo is that they don't have cap space to play with. Even with a potential salary exemption for Tim Connolly, they won't have any room. I'll defer to a post over at Sabre Rattling on this issue, as they know more than I do.
So the bad news for them is that they've lost all these guys and they don't have any cap room to rent a player. They'll have to rely on Rochester. The good news is that most of them should be back, even Connolly, for the playoffs. It's possible that Afinogenov could have a complicated recovery, but even still, he should return at some point during the playoffs.
How interesting would it be if the Sabres hold onto their 1 seed with a M*A*S*H unit on the ice, the Canes limp into an 8th spot. The injury riddled Sabres would again be up against the Canes in the playoffs.
Carolina has had a "fully healthy" roster for approximately 38 minutes this season. Because of Connolly, Buffalo has had a fully healthy roster for exactly zero minutes.
3 years ago