TORONTO - The party is over for the Carolina Hurricanes.
After serving as hosts to the hockey world when the NHL All-Star Game was held in Raleigh last weekend, Carolina has dropped two straight coming out of the break, including a 3-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.
The Hurricanes, one of a handful of teams chasing the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference, have a chance to right the ship Saturday when they host the Atlanta Thrashers, who currently sit one point ahead of the Hurricanes and hold down the last post-season seed.
After that, Carolina hits the road for five straight, including another game against Atlanta. The next few weeks will go a long way in determining whether the club scrapes into the post-season.
"This is going to test us mentally," said goalie Cam Ward of the tough stretch. "We're still sitting in ninth spot, a point out. We were looking to get out to a better start after the all-star break.
"We're going to be facing some adversity now, we’ve got a big game against Atlanta, the team we're chasing, on Saturday and this is going to test us emotionally because we’ve got to be able to put this behind and make sure we’re ready for Saturday."
The Hurricanes felt they were outworked by the Leafs on Thursday, something coach Paul Maurice said is always an ominous sign for his group.
"We don't cheat well," Maurice said. "Some teams cheat well, but when we cheat, we’re dragging it out of our net and that is the challenge with this club, getting them not to cheat."
Goals have been tough to come by for Carolina since play resumed after the break—the team was downed 3-2 by Boston on Tuesday before being blanked in Toronto.
"This is the time of the year where you need to find a way to get a win no matter what and we need to rebound and be ready on Saturday to get a 'W' and get back in the right direction," captain Eric Staal said.
Maurice didn't believe his team was looking past Toronto to the big game against Atlanta.
"I don't think that's the case, I think Toronto played a real good game," he said. "This is not the time for us to have this one, but hopefully we can shake it off and use it as a game where we say we learned how to get better."