Many clichés describe the Carolina Hurricanes' situation with 10 games remaining in the regular season. It's crunch time. There's no tomorrow. Every game's a must-win game. Their backs are against the wall. There's no crying in hockey.
However you describe it, the Hurricanes have to win practically all of their remaining games, and get a bit of help from the teams ahead of them, to make the NHL playoffs this year. Tonight they host the Ottawa Senators, a team that hasn't been thinking about the playoffs since they took their Christmas trees out to the curb. Anything less than two points could be considered a failure.
The Canes have seen the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers pull away a bit, despite the fact that Carolina has beaten Buffalo twice head-to-head in the last couple of weeks. They've one more tilt remaining, on April 3, but with the way that the Sabres have been playing that game might not matter.
Buffalo and the Rangers have found their scoring touch. The Hurricanes have not. Over their last six games, the Rangers have scored 29 goals and the Sabres have netted 24. The Hurricanes have only 10.
This is why the Rangers hold the seventh spot, with 82 points and nine games left, and the Sabres are in eighth, with 79 points and 10 games left. The Canes are three points in back of Buffalo.
And Carolina has hungry teams behind them. Toronto is just two points back, and New Jersey and Atlanta lurk only four points behind. Gulp.
Carolina's season was played out in miniature in their last game against the New York Islanders, another team that has been out of the playoff hunt since, it seems, the last Presidential election. The Canes scored the game's first goal but then lapsed for more than a period. The Islanders took the lead by out-working them. Then the Hurricanes woke back up for the third period, scratching and clawing their way to an eventual overtime win.
Desperation is rarely turned on like flipping a switch, but the Canes will need to do that in order to catch up. Otherwise they'll be what they appear to be right now: the ninth-best team in the Eastern Conference.