What Went Wrong: All Calm, No Storm
The Carolina Hurricanes end up swept out of the Final Four, in what was possibly their best chance to go all the way
Here's what I love about the playoffs, in any sport. When the top team in the entire league gets knocked out early, the pecking order changes. This year, the Boston Bruins ended up ousted early after a 65-win season, so that caused a huge paradigm shift in the NHL pecking order. Once they and the then-defending champion Colorado Avalanche were both gone, the new top favorite out of the remaining teams became the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, the Leafs ended up ousted, so who ended up as the best team left? The Carolina Hurricanes.
With the league down to the Final Four, the Stanley Cup became the Hurricanes' to lose. They were the new top dogs, and this was their opportunity to really cash in. The Hurricanes took down the New York Islanders in six games, and made quick work of the New Jersey Devils in Round 2 (five games). This was their big chance...and they totally blew it. I hate to put it like that, but they did. Swept out of the Eastern Conference Final, continuing their third round woes. With this sweep, the Hurricanes have lost twelve straight Conference Final games, having not won one since 2006--their championship year.
The Hurricanes averaged 3.2 goals per game during the regular season; pretty good average. They definitely have the players to rack up that sort of offense. However, the team only put up six goals in the series against the Florida Panthers--a tepid 1.5 goals per game. As if that isn't bad enough, it wasn't the standard 12 periods, either. Game One went to quadruple overtime, and Game Two had an overtime period, so in all, 17 periods were played. Sebastian Aho is their star player, and he finished tied for the team lead in points with 12, with five of them being goals. However, none of Aho's five goals came in the East Final; in fact, he was basically invisible in the series. Jesper Fast actually led the team in goals with six, but didn't provide much else offensively. Jordan Martinook also had 12 points, but three of them were goals. Jordan Staal, who will now have to watch brothers Eric and Marc in the Cup Final, had eight points (2 G/6 A).
Regarding the net, Frederik Andersen had the bulk of the starts; going 5-3 with a 1.87 GAA and a .927 SV%. Antti Raanta went 3-3 with a 2.48 GAA and a .909 SV%, and Pyotr Kochetkov had one loss, and was shelled in his brief moment in the net. Not counting that, it's clear that goaltending was not the problem, and was not the reason for this run coming to an early end.
Which brings me to another subject I can't help but be enthused by: the championship window. It varies from team to team. One team's window can be open for a long time, while another team has a small opporunity. Now, I cannot state the proper average length that a window stays open, but I think that depends on the league. In the NHL, the one league that is open to parity, I would think it would be about four of five years. For the Hurricanes, this is Year Five. This playoff streak began with an improbable appearance back in 2019, and they turned that into a Final Four appearance. However, the next three years saw them fail to reach that point, but entering this year, the belief was that this would be their best chance to go all the way.
So now that the Hurricanes came up short, is the window still open? I say yes, but it's not as wide. The way I see it, this year was "This is the year" mode. Now next year is "They better win, or else." Yes, they had to be without Teuvo Teravainen in this year's playoffs, but the chances were still there. Speaking of Teravainen, he and Aho will be UFA's after next year, but they're young, they should get big deals either this offseason or the next one. Jesperi Kotkaniemi's nailed down as well, but Shayne Gostisbehere isn't. Speaking of defensemen, Brent Burns has two years left on his deal, and he'll most likely call it a career, as he'll be 40 in two years. As I said, the window is still open; the Hurricanes should still be a strong force in the Metropolitan Division. But again, they're in "They better win, or else" mode, and the person under the most pressure in that mode: the man who hoisted a Cup in a Hurricanes uniform, the head coach throughout this entire stretch, Rod Brind'Amour.
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