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Matches against the Lightning, back-to-back games will make or break the Hurricanes’ playoff run

Mar 25, 2011, 2:58 PM EDT

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Jamie McBain,  Dwayne Roloson AP

Despite being far and away the least injured team in the NHL this season, the Carolina Hurricanes find themselves on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference’s playoff picture. In what could shake out to be a cruel twist of fate or a nice break, the team’s postseason dreams could wither or flourish substantially in the next two days with a home-and-home series against their division rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In fact, three of Carolina’s last nine games will come against Tampa Bay.

Tonight’s game takes place in Tampa Bay while Saturday’s contest will be held in Carolina. Along with preparing for a chunk of games against Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, the Hurricanes better get used to back-to-back games to finish off this season, as they face three more sets:

Tuesday and Wednesday (March 29-30): At Washington, then home vs. Montreal.

Saturday, April 2nd and Sunday, April 3rd: At the Islanders, home against Buffalo.

Friday, April 8th and Saturday, April 9th: At Atlanta, home vs. Tampa Bay.

Overall, there’s only one of the team’s nine remaining games that isn’t part of a back-to-back set: Wednesday, April 6th’s contest against the Detroit Red Wings (not exactly a cakewalk, either).

Before this paints too gloomy a picture, there is at least one positive: the Lightning are stumbling quite a bit right now. They’ve lost three games in a row and are 2-5-4 in their last 11 games.

The eighth-place Buffalo Sabres hold a three-point lead over the Hurricanes with the same amount of games remaining, so the Canes will need some outside help if they hope to make it into the East’s top eight. Ultimately, it might come down to how resilient this Carolina team is in four sets of back-to-back games and how well they play against the Lightning.

It’ll be interesting to see what this team is made of, as they’ve been fortunate with injuries but a bit unlucky when it comes to scheduling.

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