Rod Brind'Amour wouldn't mind seeing his Carolina Hurricanes coast into the playoffs.
Given the razor-thin margins in the battle for this season's Metropolitan Division crown, that's unlikely to be the case.
Carolina has been in a back-and-forth battle with the New Jersey Devils in an arduous sprint that could come down to the schedule's final week in mid-April.
"We can't afford to lose a game because New Jersey's not losing," Brind'Amour, the team's head coach, said recently. "It's definitely been a stressful year that way because you feel like you have to win every night.
"But it's kept us on our toes."
The Hurricanes beat the hard-charging New York Rangers — another division foe — 3-2 at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, while the Devils fell 2-1 in overtime to the Minnesota Wild at home.
Carolina cracked the 100-point mark with the victory to sit two up on New Jersey with a pair of games in hand.
And if the Hurricanes do manage to finish atop the Metro, they'll have done it without a couple of key pieces for long stretches.
Off-season acquisition Max Pacioretty has missed almost the entire campaign with a pair of Achilles injuries. He returned from surgery on his damaged right tendon in early January, but suffered a second tear just two weeks later.
Carolina then lost another star forward in Andrei Svechnikov when he was diagnosed with a season-ending knee injury earlier this month.
"Keep trying to pick the pieces up," Brind'Amour said. "It's kind of a by-committee group anyway, and certainly has to be now.
"You gotta move on. The only people we feel sorry for are the guys that are missing. Would have been two huge pieces for us, but they're not here."
Hurricanes forward Seth Jarvis said the group is well-situated to deal with the subtractions.
"We've done a good job of not only building as a team chemistry-wise, but dealing with adversity," he said. "We're going to continue to do well because we're such a tight group."
But while Carolina has managed Pacioretty's absence all season, the loss of Svechnikov presents a different challenge because there's no chance of any help coming with the NHL trade deadline having passed.
"Everyone kinda gets bumped around," Jarvis said of the lineup machinations. "You can't replace him. We don't need anyone trying to go out and be (Svechnikov).
"We need everyone to try and be the best versions of themselves."
One player who's arrived better than advertised is Brent Burns. Acquired from the San Jose Sharks in the off-season, the veteran defenceman has been a breath of fresh air since landing in Raleigh, N.C.
"Phenomenal," Brind'Amour said. "Knew he was a great player, but just to see how he prepares and his willingness to get better every day … it's all about winning."
Jarvis, 21, said it's been eye-opening to see the fire in a player who turned 38 earlier this month.
"He's been unbelievable, especially for me as a young guy having someone to look up to," Jarvis said. "He brings a lot of fun and enjoyment. Seeing someone at 37, 38 years old enjoying the game that much makes it easy for everybody."
Brind'Amour, who played against Burns in the twilight of his own career, has got to know the colourful blue-liner off the ice at their sons' hockey games.
"A great Hurricane," he said. "Wish we could have had him for 20 years … we'll take him as long as he can hang in there."
In the short-term, Brind'Amour needs the entire roster to manage the season's final push before the playoffs in a stretch — much like the rest of the campaign — with little room for error.
"You'd certainly rather coast," he said. "But I think it's kept us sharp. Maybe not picking up little habits here or there that you don't like.
"Road just gets tougher."
NHLPA PLAYER POLL RELEASED
The NHL Players' Association released its annual player poll Wednesday.
The highlights included Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy (52.3 per cent) beating out Igor Shesterkin (4.8 per cent) of the New York Rangers and Minnesota's Marc-Andre Fleury (four per cent) as the top goaltender for a one-game, winner-take-all matchup.
Edmonton captain and NHL scoring leader Connor McDavid (59.3 per cent) was voted — to no one's surprise — as the forward with the most potential impact on a must-win game, topping Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby (11 per cent) and Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon (8.4 per cent).
And Colorado's Cale Makar, the reigning Norris Trophy winner, took 63.9 per cent of the vote as the game's top defenceman over Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman (11.4 per cent) and Nashville's Roman Josi (six per cent) in the poll that tallied votes from 626 players.
Luke Schenn is happily back as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The veteran defenceman was reacquired from the Canucks as a depth option in late February after a trying campaign in Vancouver that included the protracted firing of Bruce Boudreau.
"Strange year," said Schenn, who was originally drafted by Toronto in 2008 and traded to Philadelphia in 2012. "A lot of outside noise pretty much throughout. Just coming to the rink … you're just waiting for something to happen.
"And finally it did."
Boudreau was eventually shown the door Jan. 22 and replaced by Rick Tocchet.
"I don't think it was anything that anyone anticipated," the 33-year-old Schenn said of the Canucks' struggles. "There were high expectations. We didn't get off to a great start and it carried over.
"But saying that everything happens for a reason. Glad I ended up in Toronto."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2023.
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.
Joshua Clipperton's weekly NHL notebook is published every Wednesday.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press