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Alternate Reality: Hurricanes clinch Southeast Division with game-82 win

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What if the Canes beat the Panthers in their final game of the season and won the Southeast Division three seed in the East?

Hockey - NHL - Thrashers vs. Hurricanes Photo by Andy Mead/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

It’s alternate reality week at SB Nation. What if this game changed? What if this trade never happened? How would certain events changing have altered a franchise’s long-term fate? Canes Country actually did a “revisionist history” two offseasons ago, but there are plenty of events we didn’t cover, or can offer fresh perspective on. Zeke starts us off by undoing the first of two heartbreaking game 82 losses.

The Carolina Hurricanes’ 2007-2008 season was full of ups and downs but ended with ultimate disappointment. The Hurricanes ended the month of March with a 9-2-0 record which had them up with the Capitals for first in the Southeast Division. With a playoff position on the line the Canes lost two of three games heading into the final game of the season.

With everything on the line, the Canes played their final game at home against the Florida Panthers. If they win, they’re in with the three seed, if they lose, and the Capitals win their final game, they miss out on the playoffs. The Canes went on to lose that game 4-3 (and Washington, of course, beat Florida) and the Caniacs missed out on some playoff fun with a talented, veteran team only two years removed from winning the Stanley Cup. But what would have happened if they won that game?

The Canes would have slotted into the playoffs as the three seed and would have seen the sixth seeded Philadelphia Flyers in the first round.

Despite being the six seed, the Flyers had more points the Canes with 95 but finished fourth in the Atlantic Division. The Flyers were led by Mike Richards with 75 points (28G, 47A) and leading goal scorer Daniel Briere’s 31 goals. Between the pipes, Martin Biron served as the clear starter. He played in 62 games with a 30-20-9 record with five shutouts and a .918 save percentage.

This Flyers team made a deep playoff run beating the Washington Capitals in seven games in the first round. They then cruised past the Montreal Canadiens in five games in the second round before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games.

The Canes would have matched up well against this Flyers team. This team was just a better version of the 2008-2009 team that made it to the Conference Finals just a year later. Eric Staal led the team in both goals and points with 38 goals and 82 points. Rod Brind’Amour scored 19 goals and amassed 51 total points despite playing only 59 games. The Canes were a skilled team but battled against injuries with Staal being one of the only players with 82 games played that season.

Cam Ward had an average season with a .904 save percentage which is overall the reason why they missed out on the playoffs. However, he has always shown up during the playoffs. He has a career .917 save percentage in the post season and would have backstopped the Canes to a six-game series victory against the Flyers in these playoffs.

With the playoffs re-seeding this season, the Montreal Canadiens would have faced the lowest seed in remaining in the playoffs. This means that the Canes would face the buzz saw of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. It’s also tough to think that the series would end any differently than it did the next season. The Canes would go on to lose the series in five games; they would win game four at home to avoid the sweep. This was the year the Penguins ended up losing to the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final before besting them the next season.

Most of the roster changes that the Hurricanes made were mid-season. Making it to the playoffs would not have changed their roster significantly. They were still spending around the cap and didn’t look to cut salary after they failed to make the postseason. Going into the offseason, the Canes would not have the 14th pick and would not have taken Zach Boychuk. If they had the 25th pick, where Montreal ended up after losing in the second round Tyler Ennis and John Carlson were on the board picked at 26th and 27th respectively.

The additional experience against the Penguins would have been great for the 2009 playoff run. With more experience against that team and a greater understanding of what it would take to beat them. Maybe they still get swept in the Conference Finals the next season, but there would be a far greater chance the series would have gone longer and could have even gone the Canes’ way.

One win could have changed the narrative greatly for a core group that ultimately underwhelmed with just one more playoff appearance following its triumph in 2006.