The Carolina Hurricanes had their playoff destiny in their hands entering Saturday’s regular season finale against the Tampa Bay Lightning: win and they were in. Unfortunately, the Canes got off to a slow start and never recovered, falling to the Bolts 6-2.
Dominic Moore got Tampa Bay on the board first at the 6:45 mark. The Canes seemed tight and tentative on defense and gave up too many odd man rushes which even star goalie Cam Ward couldn’t stop. It was goals by Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos scored just 1:58 apart that broke the game open and made it 3-0 just 13:17 into the first period.
“I think there’s a chance it was shock at 3-0,” Canes Coach Paul Maurice said. “Not the pressure. It felt right going out, and to come off a good night and felt good, and then, boom. It happened so fast that you’re shell shocked a little bit, and then the enormity of how much you put into it and where it’s at, I think that made it difficult for us.”
The Lightning extended their lead to 4-0 midway through the second period on a goal by defenseman Brett Clark before the Hurricanes made a last gasp attempt at a rally. Corey Stillman scored on a 5-on-3 power play with 6:29 left in the second period and a hard wrist shot by Chad LaRose pulled the Canes to within two goals with 11:27 remaining in the third period.
The Hurricanes played desperate hockey later in the game and fired a total of 17 shots on the Tampa Bay goal in the third period but backup goalie Mike Smith made 16 saves to preserve the Lightning’s lead. He finished the game with 42 stops.
When Tampa Bay’s Dana Tyrell was called for boarding with 4:16 left in the third, Maurice took a gamble and pulled Ward for a sixth attacker in a desperate attempt to tie the game. Simon Gagne and Martin St. Louis added empty net goals to put an end to the Hurricanes 2010-11 season.
The Hurricanes played valiantly down the stretch of the season, going 9-2-1 in the 12 games prior to the season finale. But they had just dug themselves too big a hole to climb out of and they fell two points short of a playoff berth. They finished the year with a 40-31-11 record, good for 91 points, an 11-point improvement over last season.
Highlights of the season included hosting the All-Star Game, the stellar play of goalie Cam Ward and captain Eric Staal and a surprising 31 goal season for rookie Jeff Skinner. Skinner has to be considered the favorite for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie.
For now, though, the disappointment of missing the playoffs lingers for the Hurricanes, especially since they seemed poised to capture the final Eastern Conference playoff berth going into their final game.
“Everyone in this room wanted to be in the playoffs,” Staal admitted. “[It's] not a nice feeling in the stomach. We obviously worked our butts off all year to have this opportunity at home, and we didn’t get the job done tonight.”
It will certainly leave the Hurricanes hungry for next season.
About the Author
Written by Brad Kurtzberg
Hockey writer for more than 10 years. Has been published on Fox Sports, MSG Network, Huffington Post and Inside Hockey. Wrote the book, "Shorthanded: The Untold Story of the Seals, Hockey's Most Colorful Team" on the old California Golden Seals and is presently working on his second book.