The Carolina Hurricanes are heading back to the postseason, but there still is work to be done.
Despite losing four of its last seven games, Carolina clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs Thursday night.
Now, it's time to shore up certain areas when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit for Saturday night's game in Raleigh, N.C.
"There's lots of challenges because we have so many tough games," Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "We're trying to win every night. The challenge is going to be to keep pushing and trying to give some guys some rest and at the end here to have something left in the tank."
The Hurricanes (46-16-8, 100 points) lost Thursday night in a 2-1 decision to the New York Rangers to begin a four-game homestand. Sebastian Aho scored the Hurricanes' lone goal. Carolina clinched a postseason spot thanks to Toronto, who defeated the Florida Panthers on Thursday.
Recent games have given the Hurricanes a glimpse at what might be ahead.
"It's tight, for sure," Brind'Amour said. "You're going to see more of that type of play here for the rest of this month and hopefully we move forward."
There will be a string of challenges for Carolina. The Maple Leafs (43-19-9, 95 points) also are contending for one of the top positions in the Eastern Conference.
"We've been talking a lot about that -- putting ourselves in position to win and finishing the job," Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said.
Toronto has picked up standings points in four of its last five games (3-1-1), including Thursday night's 6-2 romp at Florida. It was the Leafs' third road victory in its last four chances.
Three times in a two-week span, the Maple Leafs have racked up five or more goals in regulation. Those have come from a variety of sources, though Auston Matthews scored twice Thursday night.
"That's part of where we've been at with being healthy," Keefe said of having lineup options.
In particular, the Maple Leafs are trying to keep defensemen fresh. It was alternate captain Morgan Rielly's turn to take the night off in the Florida game.
"We'll look at it," Keefe said of giving some players nights off. "This little phase of the schedule is something we've talked about. I told them this was going to be coming. I think you'll see more of that kind of trend continue."
Toronto won 3-1 on Nov. 6 in Raleigh and 5-2 on March 17 at home.
The Hurricanes were 0-for-3 on the power play in Thursday night's game against the Rangers. They've been 1-for-5 on power plays this season in two games against Toronto.
Carolina has also failed to score more than one goal in three of its last four home games.
Despite that, Brind'Amour has directed the Hurricanes to a playoff berth for the fifth time in his five seasons as coach.
"We should be happy," Brind'Amour said. "You come into the season, the goal in training camp is to get to that, give yourself a chance. It says a lot about the group. Check the box, now it's you try to get better."
--Field Level Media