Hurricanes, Avalanche fight for playoff survival in matchup

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Sometimes a team needs something to rally around to spur it on during a long season. The Carolina Hurricanes were a good team and firmly in the playoff hunt three weeks ago, but now they have a mantra for extra motivation in the stretch run of the season.

Don Cherry, the irascible former NHL coach turned analyst, referred to the Hurricanes as “jerks” for their big goal celebrations. Instead of taking offense, the Hurricanes leaned into the insult — they printed “Bunch of Jerks” t-shirts and embraced the moniker.

Since Cherry’s comments on Hockey Night in Canada in mid-February, Carolina is 6-2-1 and within shouting distance of first-place Washington in the Metropolitan Division. The Hurricanes are in a tough fight to even make the playoffs — they are just two points ahead of Montreal, which is the first team out of the wild card race — and will try to strengthen their position at the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night.

Carolina (37-24-7) is coming off an impressive 5-3 win at Nashville on Saturday and is playing the second of three straight road games. The Hurricanes are within six points of first place but within three of being out of the playoffs.

“It’s been the story of the year,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said after Saturday’s win. “We’re a battling team. We’re working hard, but we’re making mistakes just like everyone else. We need big saves at key times, and that’s what we’ve been getting.”

Carolina is facing a team just as desperate in Colorado. The Avalanche (30-27-12) are two points out of the second wild card in the Western Conference and dealing with some late-season adversity. Captain Gabriel Landeskog suffered a season-ending upper-body injury in Dallas on Thursday night, leaving Colorado without one of its top three scorers for the rest of the regular season.

The Avalanche showed some mettle in their first game without him in beating Buffalo 3-0 on Saturday. Colorado got stellar performances from its other top offensive players in the win — Nathan MacKinnon had a goal and two assists and Mikko Rantanen also scored — and some solid goaltending from Philipp Grubauer with 18 saves.

The key is to keep it going on this four-game homestand.

“It’s good that everyone stepped up,” MacKinnon said after Saturday’s win. “The problem with that is we can’t forget that (Landeskog is) not in the lineup and we have to have this same effort to try and fill that void. We can’t fill a 35-goal scorer, or whatever he was on pace for, and 80-something points. I mean, that’s elite in this league.”

The Avalanche beat the Hurricanes 3-1 in Carolina on Oct. 20 during a hot start to the season. Colorado was 17-7-5 at one point but a protracted slump resulted in a drop from the top of the Western Conference to out of a postseason position.

The goaltending has stabilized, and the Avalanche are starting to get scoring from others, not just the top line. Now they face a team of “jerks” fighting for its playoff survival in a game neither team can take lightly.

Carolina showed its heart by bouncing back from an 8-1 loss to Winnipeg to beat Nashville.

“We knew what kind of a stage that we’re in right now,” Nino Niederreiter, who had two goals against the Predators, said after the game. “We’re all fighting for a playoff spot. I think we’re in a good position, so we made sure we can’t lose like that like last night 8-1. We had to make sure we bounce back and that’s what we did.”

–Field Level Media

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