Washington, at Boston, at Washington. That's a big week for any hockey team and it's the one the Canes face this week.
"It's all depends on how you divide the league up," Canes coach Paul Maurice said today. "We're probably 4-1-1 against teams that people would expect when you come into a game you'd beat them. We're 5-8 probably against teams ahead of us in the standings.
"I don't mind that. This is going to be a physically demanding week with the styles of games we're going to have to play to be successful. But I think we're equipped. We're far better equipped to handle this stretch now than we were at the start of the year. There has been improvement in our game."
The Canes (9-9-2) are fourth in the Southeast Division with 20 points but ninth in the East. The Caps (14-5-2) lead the Eastern Conference and the Bruins (11-5-2) stand fourth.
"We're playing some big teams, teams that are at the top of our conference," center Eric Staal said. "We didn't get the win the last two games but we liked our game, and hopefully that proves well for us this week and we play some good games against Washington and Boston.
"You've got to play well against the top teams. We've got to find a way."
The Canes stopped the Ottawa Senators 7-1 last Wednesday, then played hard and well in a 5-4 shootout loss on the road to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. Carolina was a 2-1 shootout loser to the Nashville Predators at home on Saturday in a much slower-paced, grinding game.
The Canes, who have the Caps at home Wednesday, put in a 55-minute practice today at the RBC Center. They play at Boston on Friday, then at Washington on Sunday.
Maurice said the improvement in his team comes in that the Canes "are structurally sounder and have a better understanding of the style of game we want to play."
"Because that's the scale I like to use to judge this team moving forward, I'm comfortable with where we're at," he said.
The Canes on Monday placed forward Patrick O'Sullivan on waivers. If there are no takers, he could be sent to the Charlotte Checkers (AHL).