Outside PNC Arena, it almost had the feel of a playoff game. Warm weather, parking lots filled with tailgaters, band playing, a good time being had by all.
But for the Carolina Hurricanes, it’s not to be. Their game Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings was the 82nd and last of the regular season.
The Red Wings are moving on to the Stanley Cup playoffs for a 24th straight year. The Canes, for the sixth straight season, can only look to next year.
The Red Wings took a 2-0 victory, getting a 35-save shutout performance from goaltender Petr Mrazek and taking over third place in the Atlantic Division. Landon Ferraro scored in the first minute of the game and Joakim Andersson had a late empty-netter for the Wings (43-25-14), who moved past the Ottawa Senators in the division.
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The Hurricanes closed the season 30-41-11 in Bill Peters’ first season as a head coach, showing improvement in some areas but lagging offensively.
“We generated a lot of shots but our problem, for the most part, was scoring enough goals to win games,” veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey said. “We just weren’t able to do that over the course of the season, and that’s the biggest thing we need to improve on. That would be our biggest weakness from the year.”
There will be some self-reflection in the next few days as the Hurricanes players go through exit interviews with management that should be frank critiques. Some of the players in the Canes’ locker room Saturday won’t be there next October when a new season begins.
The final game was like so many this season for Carolina. The Canes did some good things and got a good game in net from goalie Cam Ward, who allowed the early goal to Ferraro but tightened up and made some nice saves.
“We had enough chances to score but we just didn’t,” Canes captain Eric Staal said.
Mrazek, 23, had some high-quality stops in his third shutout of the season. In the second period, he charged out of the crease to deny Nathan Gerbe on a breakaway to preserve the 1-0 lead.
“The goaltender was aggressive,” Peters said. “There were some chances but I don’t think a ton either way.”
Ferraro scored his first NHL goal 48 seconds into the game. Sweeping behind the Canes net with the puck, he quickly backhanded a shot that beat Ward at the post.
Mrazek took it from there, beating Carolina for the second time this season as the Wings kept tight defensive gaps and got sticks on pucks in front of the goalie.
Jeff Skinner, looking to end a baffling 17-game goal-less streak, was active offensively much of the game and Mrazek made some good stops on Elias Lindholm, Justin Faulk and Hainsey.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock rested a few veterans, including Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall. Mrazek, who helped Grand Rapids win the 2013 Calder Cup in the AHL, made his 29th appearance of the season and could be the starter when the Wings begin the playoffs.
As for the Canes, it’s over.