After last year’s shootout exit, the Rangers passed that unenviable torch of last-game elimination to the Carolina Hurricanes, who came out flat as a board against a Tampa Bay team playing a mean-nothing game. The 6-2 drubbing ended the Canes’ improbable playoff run.
Watching the New York Rangers drop their first two to the top-seeded Capitals can be little consolation to the Hurricanes and their fans, who’ll now spend the summer wondering what might have been, how close they came, and what can be done next year.
After a stellar 9-2-1 stretch run, Carolina had the playoffs in its hands. Instead of playing like the season was on the line, Tampa rolled the Canes with six goals and one last victory heading into their first-round matchup with Pittsburgh. Carolina rolled off the wrong side of the playoff bubble and landed with a thick, wet thud.
That kind of loss – under those kinds of circumstances – is devastating.
By the second period, Tampa Bay had opened up a four goal lead. Though the Hurricanes finished with two goals and 44 shots, it wasn’t enough to beat backup Mike Smith and a very hot Tampa Bay team.
Carolina now has an early spring to take stock of their team and set the course for next season. One of the younger teams in the league, the Hurricanes have plenty to look forward to.
Jeff Skinner is a legitimate candidate for rookie of the year, and can push for another 30-plus goal campaign again next season. The teams also has stability in veterans Eric Staal and Cam Ward and head coach Paul Maurice.
Even though the team improved greatly from a season ago, stretches of poor play, a porous defense and the ultimate inability to beat a division rival when it mattered most will be chief among the problems to address for next season.
In a summer-long series following the team’s preparation for the 2011-12 season, we’ll cover the team’s work in the 2011 entry draft, pending free agents, stats, areas of concern and other trends.
First to come – a look at Carolina’s statistical trends and how they played into the team’s disappointing finish.