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Game Day Preview #63, Los Angeles Kings @ Carolina Hurricanes

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Eight losses in a row is so many losses, you guys.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

HOW TO WATCH

Game Time: 4:00 PM Pacific
TV: Fox Sports West
Radio: iHeart Radio
The Opposition: Canes Country

It is February 26, 2019 and the Carolina Hurricanes are in a playoff spot.

This is, in case you haven’t kept up with the larger state of affairs of the league, an unusual spot for the Hurricanes to be in. Per Hurricanes beat reporter Sara Civian, this is the first time the Hurricanes have found themselves positioned as such since 2011.

For a team frequently thought of as being on the cusp of returning to relevance, but which never quite managed to meet expectations, the fact that they’re in this position at all is refreshing. Attribute it to what you will—young new talent, the leadership and also fantastic hair of Justin Williams, a re-energized fanbase, a hands-on owner who hates to lose, plain old luck—the Hurricanes are finally making the waves that have been predicted for years.

Their spot isn’t secure, though. With 72 points, they’re in the second wild card spot in the East, tied for points with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who lose out on the tiebreaker because the Hurricanes have more regulation wins. The Montreal Canadiens, in the first wild card spot, have 73 points. The Columbus Blue Jackets, third in the Metro, have 73 points as well, and also acquired seemingly anyone who has ever played in the NHL at the deadline. For the young Hurricanes, every game from here on out is important if they want to lock down their spot in the post-season.

The Hurricanes are 9-3-0 this month, their best February in franchise history, and are looking to make it 10 when the Kings take the ice tonight. They’re led in scoring by young Finnish star in the making Sebastian Aho, who has a very nice 69 points on the season so far. Fellow Finn Teuvo Teravainen is just behind him with 55 points, and Justin Williams, forever in our hearts, is third on the team with 41 points. We’re all Williams homers around here, sure, but there’s no question that Williams is the heart and soul of just about any team he lands on—heck, he played just two years with the Capitals and is still beloved by their fans—and his influence on turning around the culture of the Hurricanes can’t possibly be understated.

(We miss you, Stick, come back, our team is broken.)

The Kings are trying to avoid an eight-game slide becoming a nine-game slide. They went winless on their last homestand and need a win tonight to avoid being winless on this road trip. They’ve picked up a few standings points thanks to dragging games to overtime, but the brief feeling of elation when the team reeled off three road wins is gone, replaced by the bitter reminder of just how futile this season has been.

Rob Blake may have called out his veteran players to step up and show what they’re made of, but it’s the kids of the Kings who continue to respond to the call to make something out of what’s left of the season. Of the five players who registered a goal or assist last night against Tampa Bay, only one could be considered a true veteran player: Trevor Lewis. The rest of the guys on Team Actual Real Adults? Absent. (Dion Phaneuf was credited with four shots on goal. We’ll give him a thumbs up for that.)

Players like Austin Wagner, Sean Walker, and Matt Roy continue to make the case for increased playing time and a first crack at securing a roster spot for the 2019-20 season. Alex Iafallo’s improved all-around play has been a bright spot for the whole year. The veterans? Not so much from them. Whether it’s a mental block, a feeling of comfort because their contracts are harder to trade, lingering injuries, malaise, the plague, or other secret reasons, this team will be going nowhere fast if its highest paid players are still on the roster but accomplishing nothing.

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