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There is no easy ride into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Winning the Stanley Cup is hard. But so, too, is getting a chance to play for the Cup.
The Carolina Hurricanes will have a hard time getting that chance if they play more games as poorly as they did Friday against the Winnipeg Jets. The Canes were hammered 4-0 — in the first period — in an ugly 8-1 loss at PNC Arena.
The Canes (36-24-7) held one of the Eastern Conference wild-card playoff spots before Friday’s game. An overtime loser to the Boston Bruins in their last game, when they donned the Hartford Whalers green jerseys for the second time, they were playing at home and in their “lucky” black sweaters on Friday.
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The Jets (40-23-4) had lost three of five and were looking to rebound from a 5-2 road loss against Tampa Bay. And did. Strongly.
How bad was it for the Canes? Nino Niederreiter was minus-6, Sebatian Aho minus-5 and Justin Williams was minus-4. That’s the Canes’ top line.
Jets goalie Laurent Brossoit picked up his second victory of the season over the Canes. He had to make 42 saves in the first game, in October, but wasn’t as pressed nearly as much Friday.
Greg McKegg scored his sixth of the season for the Canes midway through the third period, but that came after the Jets had taken a 5-0 lead.
Jets coach Paul Maurice said Thursday that while he personally liked the Canes’ much-discussed post-game celebrations, he didn’t want the Canes to have that opportunity again Friday.
No problems there. Kevin Hayes scored in the first for Winnipeg. Blake Wheeler scored. Ben Chiarot scored, then Nikolaj Ehlers.
Chiarot scored again, Andrew Copp added two goals and Kyle Connor a power-play score for the Jets.
The Jets, for the most part, used their speed to beat the Canes up and down the ice, beat them to pucks. For the most part, the Jets shooters were unchecked, especially in the slot area, leaving goalie Curtis McElhinney — 10-2-1 in his past 13 stars before Friday — alone to fight for his life.
Even when Brossoit made a mistake, no problem. He misplayed the puck behind the net in the first, allowing Aho to get the puck to Teuvo Teravainen for a shorthanded chance. But Brossoit bounced back into the crease and made the stop.
The only time the Canes disturbed the Jets very much in the opening period was when Williams whistled a shot past Brossoit. But the whistle already had blown as Niederreiter had been called offside, and the Jets quickly swarmed around Williams.
Williams was called for unsportsmanlike conduct and the Jets’ Dmitry Kulikov for roughing. It was four-on-four but Chiarot soon had an open shot in the slot and that was that.
One the best plays made by the Canes in the first was defenseman Dougie Hamilton kicking the puck 20 feet out of the Carolina zone.
Despite a semblance of a push by the Canes, it didn’t get better in the second as Copp scored his first for a 5-0 lead, again with the Aho line on the ice.
Canes forward Micheal Ferland left the game in the third after taking a big, clean hit from Kulikov in the Jets zone.
The Canes realized this was a big weekend against two very good teams — Winnipeg and Nashville. After a loss at home, it’s off to face the Predators on Saturday, coming off two losses and badly needing points.