Luke DeCock

Hurricanes' postseason futility streak reaches nine years, officially

It's official: Canes' out of the playoffs.

The Carolina Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said that "it's been a grind for quite a while," after the team was officially eliminated from the playoffs following a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers in NHL action at PNC Arena in Raleigh on March 31,
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The Carolina Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said that "it's been a grind for quite a while," after the team was officially eliminated from the playoffs following a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers in NHL action at PNC Arena in Raleigh on March 31,

Unfortunately, the Carolina Hurricanes still have one home game left, so this isn't the last we'll see of this particular underachieving, uninspiring bunch.

Wouldn't it be nice if it was.

Effectively eliminated six weeks ago with that 3-1 no-show against the San Jose Sharks last month, or the 4-1 capitulation at the hands of the Calgary Flames in January, or the four-minute collapse against the Washington Capitals in the first home game after the team finally sold and everything seemed to be turning for the better, or even the 8-1 loss at the Toronto Maple Leafs in December when Scott Darling was exposed as a pretender – pick a date, really, since any will do – the Hurricanes were finally, officially and mercifully eliminated Saturday night.

If the Hurricanes' 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers – one of the six Eastern Conference teams with a worse record than the Hurricanes – hadn't done it, the New Jersey Devils' win over the New York Islanders would have, so the Hurricanes made sure of it either way.

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The Canes' Justin Williams (14) can't get the puck past the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist (30) and John Gilmour (58) during the first period. The Rangers beat the Canes 2-1.. Chris Seward cseward@newsobserver.com

"We've known for a little while we were out of it," Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal said. "It being official doesn't really make a difference."

Down 1-0 with a chance to tie, the Hurricanes managed to give up a short-handed goal 10 seconds into a power play, which considering the amount of time it takes to lose a faceoff and skate to the other end of the ice, is about as fast as possible.

It was their season, summarized: Full of optimism, squashed in as painful a way as possible. The only way it could have been more fitting would have been an out-of-position Darling flailing at it with his inept glove. Instead it was Cam Ward, once again pressed into service as a No. 1 goalie by default, victimized on a two-on-one.

The expansion Vegas Golden Knights are going to the playoffs on their first try. The Hurricanes haven't been to the playoffs in nine tries. And that was apparent long before Saturday's loss, but the settling-in of it always carries with it an unavoidable sense of gloom.

Nine years. By the fall, that will span two general managers (and soon a third). Three coaches (and perhaps soon a fourth). Three failed Ward replacements (and perhaps soon a fourth). Ward has been around for all nine seasons, Jeff Skinner for eight, Justin Faulk for seven, Staal for six. Justin Williams missed the first eight, but got sucked into the ninth. The rot runs deep.

"I guess the story is different," Skinner said. "There were more expectations with the players we had and how we finished the year last year and the moves we made."

From the ill-advised and baffling naming of co-captains – curious enough even before the selection of Faulk and snub of Williams – to Darling's tragicomic misadventures in net to a chronic inability to convert scoring chances into goals to the baffling propensity for overtime and shootout losses that extends over an entire decade to the inaction of since-deposed general manager Ron Francis, this entire season was an exercise in frustration from start to finish.

This team still has a strong young core of talented players, starting with Sebastian Aho – the focus of Saturday's entire telecast – and Jaccob Slavin. Martin Necas will be here shortly. One or two of the high-scoring minor-league forwards in Charlotte will certainly turn out to be better than what was here this season, and Valentin Zykov and Warren Foegele have made their sadly belated cases in that regard lately. But changes are needed, and not just in goal, to root out the culture of losing if nothing else.

"We're very close. We are close," Staal said. "We still need a few pieces here and there."

Bill Peters may or may not be back, and with his option to get out of the final year of his contract and no shortage of would-be suitors elsewhere, both Peters and new owner Tom Dundon will have to agree on his return. Peters has increasingly been the target of fan frustration over this team's underperformance, and fairly so, but ask yourself: would that conversation be happening with even NHL-average goaltending? (And the corollary: can the Hurricanes finally get NHL-average goaltending, or better, next season?)

The Hurricanes go on a worthless road trip to Florida and Philadelphia and return home in a week for the final curtain call of an epic flop. The next season will start with a new owner, a new general manager, maybe a new coach and hopefully a whole bunch of new players. It's over now, officially, and the sooner everyone can move on to the offseason, the better.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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