Goalie Petr Mrazek’s best job reference last summer came from the man who decided he wasn’t the right answer for the Detroit Red Wings.
“I remember calling (Detroit GM) Ken Holland and he said, ‘When Petr gets on a roll, he can carry your team for five or six games,’ ” Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said.
Waddell signed Mrazek as a free agent last summer, and the goalie has won seven of his last eight starts (.946 save percentage, three shutouts during that span) to help the Hurricanes strengthen their hopes of qualifying for the playoffs for first time since 2009.
“I give Petr a lot of credit, because when we talked last year, he said, ‘Don, it’s not about the money – it’s about being in the right spot to have the opportunity to compete for playing time,'” Waddell recalled. That’s what you want to hear.”
Mrazek volunteered to take a one-year contract for $1.5 million if Waddell would give him a chance to be a No. 1 goalie.
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The Hurricanes are 13-3-1 in their past 17 games and have been a spirited group, leading to a 12 percent jump in attendance.
“The way the league is now, you know things aren’t always going to go your way,” Waddell said. “The key is how you bounce back when that happens. And that’s where we’ve been good the last 30 games. We got spanked in Winnipeg when we played our worst game of the year and then we bounced in Nashville in a pretty tough environment with one of their better games of the year.”
Carolina boasts many contributors. Dougie Hamilton’s 10 goals since Jan. 1 are the most by any league defenseman. With 77 points in 69 games, Sebastian Aho might be one of the league’s most anonymous superstars. Rod Brind’Amour will get Coach of the Year votes.
The Hurricanes’ path to the playoffs doesn’t get easier. From March 19 to April 2, they play Washington twice, Pittsburgh twice and Tampa Bay and Toronto once.
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“That will be a test,” Waddell said.
Other teams ready for the playoffs and some that are not:
Ready for the playoffs
►Tampa Bay Lightning: Coach Jon Cooper’s 53-13-4 team has a +89 goal-differential. The Lightning could easily be +100 before the season is over. Down the stretch, they only need to guard against boredom.
►Washington Capitals: The Caps have won seven of eight since adding defenseman Nick Jensen to the lineup from the Red Wings. He might be the 2019 version of defenseman Michal Kempny. Last season, Kempny’s acquisition was a key factor in Washington winning the Stanley Cup. This season, defensive-minded Jensen has been an equally positive fit.
►San Jose Sharks: They’ve won six in a row and eight out of 10 to move atop the Western Conference standings. They rank second in the league in goals and have scoring depth. Five players have 20 or more goals, including two who top 30, led by Joe Pavelski with 37 (six game-winners). Newcomer Gustav Nyquist scored two goals Tuesday night to give him 19 for the season.
►Boston Bruins: This is a team nobody should want to face in the playoffs. The Bruins rank third in the league with a 2.53 goals-against average and are 15-2-2 in their last 19 games. Imagine how dangerous they will be when David Pastrnak returns from injury.
Not ready for the playoffs
►Nashville Predators: They haven’t been able to find the consistency they will need in the playoffs. They are 8-9-1 since Feb. 2. They have given up five goals five times in that stretch. Filip Forsberg has three goals with a -8 plus-minus in his past eight games.
►Toronto Maple Leafs: They played listlessly in a 6-2 loss to Tampa Bay Monday night and have given up three or more goals 11 times in their last 17 games. Even with adding Jake Muzzin, the Toronto defense doesn’t seem proficient enough for playoff competition.
►Winnipeg Jets: The Jets are 6-9-2 in their last 17 games, including two losses to the last-place Ottawa Senators. The Jets have the talent to be considered a favorite in the West, but they haven’t been as formidable as expected.
►Columbus Blue Jackets: After multiple trades, the Blue Jackets haven’t come together as management hoped. The team is 6-5 — with a 7-4 win against Bruins on Tuesday) —since Matt Duchene was acquired. It’s far from guaranteed they will even qualify for the playoffs.