The Carolina Hurricanes will soon be facing another long offseason, again watching others compete for the Stanley Cup, again assessing why they were left out of the playoffs.
The Canes were officially eliminated from playoff contention Tuesday for the eighth straight season. Jeff Skinner scored his 34th and 35th goals of the season, setting a new career high, and added an assist against the Minnesota Wild but the Canes were beaten 5-3 in the road game at Xcel Energy Center
Canes forward Bryan Bickell, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, returned to the NHL on Tuesday. Adding to the emotion of the night was the Wild honoring former Carolina captain Eric Staal for playing his 1,000th career game in a moving pregame ceremony as the Canes watched from the bench.
During the game, Ottawa’s 2-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings mathematically ended the Canes’ playoff chances, moving the Senators to 94 points. The Canes have 84 points with three games remaining.
“It’s tough,” Skinner said. “It’s tough to lose, especially this time of the year.”
Of the Canes players, only goalie Cam Ward was on the 2008-09 Canes team that reached the Eastern Conference finals – Carolina’s only playoff appearance since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006.
The Canes (35-30-14) did their best to make things interesting with a hot run in March. They set a franchise record with points in 13 straight games, going 9-0-4, before the 3-0 loss Saturday to the Dallas Stars at PNC Arena, followed Sunday by another regulation loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It’s easy to tick off the reasons the Canes again will miss the playoffs: a poor start to the season, bad road record, scoring droughts, an erratic power play, inconsistent goaltending, a 7-14 overtime record.
It didn’t help the Canes that the Metropolitan Division was the NHL’s best this season. But Carolina was 1-4-1 in six games against the New Jersey Devils (1-3-0), the last-place team in the Metro and Eastern Conference, and the Colorado Avalanche (0-1-1), the worst team in the NHL.
The Canes badly faltered before the NHL All-Star break in late-January, losing five straight games in regulation. They also stumbled out of their NHL bye week in February, losing to the Avs and going 1-3-1 in a critical five-game homestand.
But the road record is a killer for the Canes. Carolina is 23-11-5 at PNC Arena this season but 12-19-9 on the road.
Because of the World Cup of Hockey and a later-than-usual start to the season, combined with the yearly conflict with the N.C. State Fair dates, the Canes played their first six games on the road. Their first home game: Oct. 28 against the New York Rangers.
The road woes began in the opener, at Winnipeg. Carolina led 4-1 with 15 minutes left in the third, only to have Jets captain Blake Wheeler score shorthanded, rookie Patrik Laine blast in a power-play shot, the Jets tie the score and then win 5-4 in overtime.
In the Canes’ second game, at Vancouver, they again couldn’t hold a three-goal lead and lost 4-3 in overtime. The Canes finished the trip 1-3-2 and were 3-6-4 overall after the first 13 games of the season.
Of the 16 teams in playoff position after Tuesday’s games, only the Nashville Predators had a road record below “NHL .500” – 16-19-4, offset by a 24-9-8 home record. A year ago, every playoff team had a road record of NHL .500 or better.
The Canes were 3-0-1 in a four-game road trip in March, spurring their 13-game point streak. But they were 7-16-7 on the road entering March, the damage done.
There’s still hockey to be played. The Canes host the New York Islanders on Thursday, face the St. Louis Blues in their final home game Saturday, then close out the season Sunday at Philadelphia with a game against the Flyers.
“We have to regroup and finish out hard,” Skinner said.
Canes coach Bill Peters said it was important to “do it right” in the final three games.
“We've done it right for a long period of time here recently,” Peters said. “We want to finish on a positive note with our effort and our attention to detail.”
ISLANDERS AT HURRICANES
When: 7 p.m., Thursday
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh