The season won't end Tuesday night if Carolina loses in Buffalo, but it might feel like it for the Hurricanes.
Must-win contest? Just about.
"Yeah, it's going to be huge," Hurricanes captain Eric Staal told ESPN.com on Monday.
The suddenly slumping Hurricanes have won only three of their past 10 games (3-5-2) and have dropped four points behind the Sabres and New York Rangers, holders of the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. The head-to-head matchup with the Sabres is a golden opportunity for Carolina to get back on track.
"Our whole team knows where we're at as far as the standings," Staal said. "We're a few points behind them and we play them two more times [in Carolina on April 3], so these are games that we have to have. We're excited about that. You've got to be looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity. That's how we're going to take it Tuesday night."
Staal was upbeat on the phone, not a hint of frustration in his voice. His team is winless in four games (0-3-1), but the star center remains confident.
"You know what? It's been tough lately, but to be completely honest, the last three games that we've played, I thought we've played harder than we've played in a long time and we just haven't got the results," said Staal.
Certainly in a 2-1 loss to Washington on Friday night, I thought the Canes deserved a better fate. They played a heck of a game. That's why Staal doesn't think major adjustments are needed.
"This time of year, with 13 games left, we need to stick with what we're doing. We can't change anything," said Staal. "We need to continue to bring that worth ethic and the type of fight that we've had on the puck the last couple of games, because the wins are going to come. It's just a matter of staying with it."
Still, Carolina's 25th-ranked power play has been a major letdown. The Hurricanes have to connect on the man advantage from here on out or they're not going to make the playoffs.
"Obviously, our power play hasn't been phenomenal," said Staal. "But we've had some unbelievable looks. They just haven't hit the back of the net."
After Tuesday's game, Carolina hosts Toronto on Wednesday night, another big contest with the Maple Leafs also in the East playoff race. It's crunch time. This is when you find out who your leaders are. I asked Staal, 26, if he has recently felt the need to address the team.
"I think with where we're at right now, there isn't much that has to be said," said Staal. "Everyone in the locker room knows where we want to be and how we're going to have to get there -- that's by beating teams that we're facing right now, especially Tuesday night.
"Sometimes you can say too much. For me, it's about making sure we're prepared and performing on the ice, and I like I said, I think our fight has been there the last bunch of games. We just have to bring that again and hopefully, with the hockey gods, things will even out."