And the 82-game NHL season comes down to one game for the Cardiac Canes.
Carolina's 6-1 win in Atlanta gave them an 8-1-1 record in their last ten games, leaving them tied with the Rangers in points but ahead in a tie-breaker. A Rangers loss to the Devils on Saturday would also clinch the playoffs for Carolina, regardless of the Tampa result.
If they get in, the Canes will face the division rival Washington Capitals in the first round. But coach Paul Maurice was quick to remind the press that his team is not in yet.
"Nothing has really changed," Maurice said. "Tomorrow night is the one we're focusing on. It will be a challenge for us."
Over the last week, things have looked grim for the Canes. The proverbial fat lady came onstage, cleared her throat, and inhaled deeply when the Sabres beat the Canes in overtime last Sunday behind lights-out goaltending from backup Jhonas Enroth.
But the New York Rangers, who lost hold of the eighth spot last season in a shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the season's final game, set themselves up for an almost identical disappointment with their listless effort in Atlanta Thursday night. The Rangers host the Devils in a nationally televised 12:30pm game.
Tuomo Ruutu and Jeff Skinner each had a goal and two assists on Friday night, and the Canes outshot the Thrashers nearly 2-1. Skinner started the scoring off just three minutes in with his 31st goal, and Erik Cole matched his jersey number with his 26th of the year just three minutes after that.
Joni Pitkanen's powerplay goal on a netmouth rush off the second period's opening faceoff sealed the deal for the Canes. A flurry of three more goals in a 2:38 span of the third period built a 6-0 lead.
Bryan Little spoiled Cam Ward's bid for a second consecutive shutout with a goal in the final minute of the game.