What Went Wrong: Hurricanes Ousted in Five by Defending Champions
The Carolina Hurricanes suffered a crushing five-game loss to the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Carolina Hurricanes boasted a loaded lineup that got them first place in the makeshift Central Division this season, and while it was enough to beat the Nashville Predators, it wasn't enough against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Central Division Final. The Hurricanes' 2-0 shutout loss to the defending Stanley Cup Champions on Tuesday ended their season; a five-game loss to the Lightning that saw the Hurricanes suffer three of their losses on home ice. This is their third straight postseason following a drought of nine seasons; 2019 saw them reach the Eastern Conference Final and get swept by the Bruins, and 2020 saw the Hurricanes sweep the Rangers in the Qualifying Round, only to lose to the Bruins in Round 1 in the Toronto bubble.
What exactly went wrong? Plain and simple: the Lightning were just too much for them. Alex Nedeljkovic, who had led the way in net for Carolina all season (to the point where he is up for the Calder Trophy this season), was flat out dominated in this entire series. The centerpiece of the defensive breakdown was Game Four, which saw a grand total of eight goals scored in the 2nd frame--four on each side. The Hurricanes were outmatched, outplayed, and basically out-everything by the Bolts, there was absolutely no shame in this loss--the Lightning won that Cup last year for various reasons, all having to do with their game.
The Hurricanes' loaded roster includes players like Nino Niederreiter, Jordan Staal, Warren Foegele, Martin Necas, Vincent Trocheck, and Dougie Hamilton, just to name a few. A group like that will continue to make noise for Carolina for years to come, even as they will return to the Metropolitan Division next season. Their division foes include the Blue Jackets, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Flyers, Penguins, and Capitals. I would think that the Hurricanes would be a regular top three team in that division; their roster is definitely deep enough for them to go toe-to-toe with teams like the Penguins, Capitals, and even the Islanders, who will all be strong forces in the Metropolitan Division.
The big bonus for the Hurricanes returning to the Metropolitan Division? They don't have to deal with the Panthers and Lightning. Though they finished in first place in that Central Division, it wasn't easy. Throughout the entire season, Carolina and the Florida teams were in a huge three team battle for first place in the Central, which was an important spot, because two of the teams would face each other in Round 1, while the division winner would avoid either of them until Round 2. In the end, Carolina proved their might this season and earned the first place spot.
So in all, the Hurricanes had a terrific season that saw them win the Central Division, and hang with both Florida teams in the regular season, but come playoff time, the Lightning were simply too strong and too much for them. And with that deep roster, the future looks very bright for Carolina; they will definitely continue to be a perennial playoff team for years to come. What they do with it, however, is all up to them. It has now been 15 years since their dream Stanley Cup run, and that was a team that had Rod Brind'Amour as one of their core players. He is now their head coach, and has been a factor in the Hurricanes' recent good seasons, but they now need another deep run with that core.