For the Canes, what could be the final push began Monday with an hour-long practice.
After having Saturday and Sunday off -- a veritable spring break during the shortened NHL season -- the Canes were back at PNC Arena preparing for their Southeast Division game Tuesday with Winnipeg. The Canes trail the Jets, whom they'll face again this week in Winnipeg, by four points.
Canes coach Kirk Muller called it a "huge game" and it seems that way, especially for a team that's winless in its last five games. With 18 games left in the regular season, there's no room for any more slippage, especially at home, where the Canes are 7-8 this season.
"You're pretty much in the playoffs right now," Muller said. "You look at the schedule. We've got Winnipeg twice this week and Toronto. This is the race now. It's right now.
"We're rejuvenated. We're refocused. We've just got to take it one game at a time."
The Canes should have forward Chad LaRose back in the lineup. LaRose, who missed the past 10 games with a concussion, appeared to handle the practice well physically and was used at right wing on Jordan Staal's line opposite Jeff Skinner.
"You take for granted sometimes feeling good," LaRose said. "It's great to be back and feeling good. It was tough. This (concussion) was a tough one to deal with and kind of had some setbacks here and there.
"Any injury, when you have to watch your team and you're not playing, it's tough. You want to be a part of it. You want to play every game but they do a lot of protocol with (concussions) now and they're cautious. You just listen to what the doctors say and be prepared when you're ready."
With Tuomo Ruutu back in the lineup, Muller had five full lines of forwards. The top line continued to be Eric Staal with wingers Jiri Tlusty and Alex Semin; Jordan Staal with Skinner and LaRose; Riley Nash centering Ruutu and Pat Dwyer; Tim Brent centering Adam Hall and Kevin Westgarth; and Jussi Jokinen with Drayson Bowman and Tim Wallace.
"It's nice to get some bodies back," Muller said. "It gives us some versatility. We ask a lot of our forwards in our system and we're going to need a lot of bodies to grind it out down the stretch."
Muller said a decision on the scratches would be made after Tuesday's morning skate, and after checking on LaRose's condition after the long practice.
Defenseman Joe Corvo, who missed three games with a lower-body injury, was back for practice Monday and paired with Tim Gleason. The other D pairs were Joni Pitkanen-Jamie McBain and Jay Harrison-Brett Bellemore, as Justin Faulk (knee sprain) and Bobby Sanguinetti (upper-body injury) remained out.
Justin Peters will start in goal against Winnipeg, and Muller said it's likely John Muse would be recalled Tuesday from the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) to serve as the backup.
The Jets (17-14-2) have 36 points to the Canes' 32, but the Canes (15-13-2) have three games in hand on Winnipeg. Carolina is one point outside of playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
Muller said the schedule -- four games in six days, five in eight -- may have worked against the Canes before the break, noting, "We didn't have too much in the tank."
"From here on in there won't be any chance to pause and regroup."