Just making the playoffs isn’t enough for the Hurricanes. Their sights are higher

We haven’t but reached the level the place making the playoffs may be taken for granted, though the Carolina Hurricanes have carried out it this season with such relative ease. The indisputable fact that reaching the postseason three years in a row is a post-relocation first is a pointed reminder that these very darkish days aren’t all that far behind.

A franchise that has struggled with prosperity over the course of its historical past is now awash in it after clinching one other journey to the playoffs with the level earned in Monday night time’s 4-3 additional time loss to the Dallas Stars, and such an accomplishment shouldn’t be taken evenly. There have been too a few years when the Hurricanes fell brief by the best of margins (and simply as many when the margins have been all too huge).

Even if this crew was anticipated to be on this place at this level, between COVID and accidents and the high quality of opponents like Tampa Bay and Florida, there was no scarcity of potholes and hurdles to be dodged and cleared alongside the means.

So it’s value taking a second to understand the diligence with which this group has approached the common season the previous three years, in addition to the motivational and technical talent of Rod Brind’Amour and his teaching workers. These haven’t simply been three seasons value persevering with in the postseason; they’ve been three seasons of steady enchancment, even when the playoff outcomes didn’t proceed alongside the similar upward slope.

And … the second’s over.

Because this crew anticipated a minimum of this, and since it has certainly elevated its recreation from final season and the season earlier than, this could’t be enough. Amid the disruption of final season and the stifling uncomfortability of the playoff bubble, there have been occasions when it appeared like the Hurricanes have been merely comfortable to be there, particularly as the Boston collection went sideways.

There hasn’t been any of that this season, and there shouldn’t be any of that in the playoffs, and there can’t be any of it now. The stakes are simply as excessive over the ultimate eight video games as they have been over the first 48. In this division, with three heavyweights slugging it out at the high, ending first means greater than hanging a banner.

With the apparent and perennial caveat that each playoff collection is its personal miniature universe, the odds will lean closely towards the crew amongst the Carolina-Tampa-Florida trio that doesn’t must play one in every of the different two in the first spherical. That 2-3 semifinal collection in the Central Division has the potential to be an absolute slog, each bit as tough as the division ultimate will likely be. No disrespect to Dallas or Nashville, however the hole between the high three and the remainder of the division is tangible and important. There’s a reward for ending robust, and the Hurricanes management their very own future to assert it.

Closing out the season the proper means and claiming the division title can be a press release of intent from a crew that has proven its Stanley Cup window is as open as anybody’s. There are 12 gamers on this crew who participated in the first-round win over the Washington Capitals in 2019. That core is as skilled in the postseason as it’ll get. With the addition of Vincent Trocheck, Brady Skjei, Martin Necas, Jesper Fast and Alex Nedeljkovic to that group, their time has come and it has come now.

The Hurricanes could not win the Stanley Cup, however the crew that wins this division goes to have nearly as good an opportunity to win it as anybody. They’re proper in that blend. They have earned entry to the postseason. Now they’ve to complete the common season on the proper observe, in the proper means, for all the proper causes.

They have already made historical past of a kind, however that may’t be all.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock has coated 4 Final Fours, the Summer Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cowl the Hurricanes and the NHL earlier than turning into a columnist in 2008. A local of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has received a number of nationwide and state awards for his columns and have writing whereas twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.

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