[This is part 18 of a multi-part series where I venture into an alternate universe where I take over the Carolina Hurricanes using Sports Interactive’s Eastside Hockey Manager: Early Access.]

April 11th, 2017

The first game after the trade deadline, the Hurricanes hosted the Washington Capitals at PNC Arena. Coach Ruff elected to start newly promoted Cam Talbot in goal, raising some concerns, but Ruff reiterated that Nedeljkovic was his starting goaltender, and that the start for Talbot was to show that he had confidence in him if he was needed and that his bad start of the season had been “forgotten”. Still, Talbot reminded Canes fans two minutes into the first period when Alex Galchenyuk buried one high glove side to give the Caps the early lead.

A high glove side goal against the Canes!?

The Canes would come back, however, and in a back-and-forth battle, the teams would end up tied at three at the end of regulation and would enter overtime. A Dmitry Orlov interference penalty put the Canes on the power play, and when John Carlson made a weak clearing attempt, it was Evander Kane picking it off and putting it past Anders Lindback to give the Hurricanes a 4-3 overtime win.

Whether it was Kane providing a spark or just the way momentum changes during the season, the Canes began to roll after the deadline. As Carolina looked to secure a playoff spot for the first time in eight seasons, the team went 12-3-1 through March, getting as high as 5th in the Eastern Conference and 2nd in the Metro, behind the Penguins. In the last week of March, the Canes officially clinched a playoff spot, but where they’d end up was anyone’s guess – the 4th and 8th place teams in the Eastern Conference were only separated by a handful of points.

On March 31st, Kane was a no-show at the Canes morning skate. The team announced to the media that Kane was taking a “maintenance day”, but in reality he was getting an MRI on his shoulder. Kane woke up in great pain and spoke to team trainer Pete Friesen, who wanted to take no chances. The MRI came up negative, but Friesen recommended Kane shut it down for the rest of the regular season – officially listed as an “upper body injury”, Kane had a strained rotator cuff. In 18 games with the Canes, Kane scored 8 goals and had 6 assists.

After losing Kane, the Canes stumbled. They took their next game against the Flyers, then went on a three game road trip, and dropped all three games, including a 4-0 shutout loss to the Flyers, who leapt over them in the standings, knocking Carolina down to 4th in the Metropolitan Division and the 1st Wild Card slot.

On April 8th, a point behind Philadelphia for 3rd and two points behind Columbus for 2nd in the Metro, the Canes hosted the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings had already clinched 2nd in the Atlantic Division, so while there was nothing on the line for them, there was a lot riding on the game for the Canes. So much so, that someone wanted to come back a little early. Evander Kane wanted back in.

Workrate was torn. In his gut, he wanted Kane for the playoffs which was nearly a week away. That would be around two weeks – the amount of time that Pete Friesen said he’d need (at least). But Kane looked great in practice, and he really wanted to play. Coach Ruff understood the concern, but he sided with his player – whether it was more diplomatic or what he actually believed, we’ll probably never know. Whatever the case, Workrate went with his heart instead of his gut and signed off of Kane playing against the Red Wings.

The addition of Kane didn’t help, as the Canes would fall to the Red Wings, 4-2. Kane played well on the first line with Eric Staal and David Backes, netting an assist on Backes goal in the third that tied the game at two. The loss put the Canes at 94 points, good enough for the 1st wild card in the Eastern Conference, and 4th in the Metro. This meant a first round matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who at 107 points finished one point behind the Boston Bruins for first in the Eastern Conference.

While the team celebrated the end of the regular season and their first trip to the playoffs since 2009, Evander Kane was nowhere to be found. Concerned, Workrate left the celebration to find Kane. His fears were confirmed when he found Kane in the trainer’s room with Friesen, having his shoulder checked out. Friesen turned to Workrate angrily.

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“I hope this game was that important to you,” said Friesen. “because Evander’s back to square one. He’s not going to Pittsburgh, and he’ll be lucky to play in the series at all.”

Workrate turned and left the room. The team had slumped near the end of the season when Kane was out of the lineup. Had he just screwed over the Canes chances in the playoffs just because of one stupid game at the end of the season?