ATLANTA -- When Paul Maurice walked out of the RBC Center on Sunday, the Canes coach probably couldn't have envisioned standing in a hallway at Philips Arena today talking playoff possibilities.
The Canes' 2-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday, in overtime, was a body blow. The players were glum. Maurice's tone of voice almost seemed to have a bit of resignation in it as he talked of how the players had given all they could.
Did he mean in that game, or in the season? Would the Sabres' loss be a killer?
Turns out, it was not. There was the team meeting Monday, when captain Eric Staal said Maurice spoke of staying positive, washing away the Sabres loss and moving on. There was a spirited practice Tuesday. The Canes then responded Wednesday by beating the Detroit Red Wings 3-0 at the RBC Center in perhaps the team's most complete victory of the season.
"I always feel that we're not going to get any help and we're going to have to try and do this on our own," Maurice said today. "What really helped was the way we played the third period against Buffalo, that we found a way in that tension to play our best. I think that kept us going through those next two days and into the Detroit game, that at the biggest pressure point of our season we responded and played our best hockey."
Then, the New York Rangers lost 3-0 Thursday night to the Atlanta Thrashers. While it's overcast in Atlanta today, things suddenly are much brighter for the Hurricanes, who still trail the Rangers by two points.
The Rangers face the New Jersey Devils at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow in their final regular-season game. But what was the Rangers' problem on Thursday now becomes the Canes' problem.
"They played very well and worked hard for their win and was the better team and deserved it," Maurice said of the Thrashers. "We'll expect that from them tonight."
The Thrashers' last two wins were impressive: on the road against the Philadelphia Flyers and then the Rangers. Atlanta (34-34-12) closes its season with a home game Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Maurice said the Canes can't take anything for granted, not at this point.
"Right now we don't have enough points to qualify for the playoffs," he said. "We're still chasing. What happens tomorrow afternoon and tomorrow night, those are all secondary to what happens here tonight."