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Hurricanes History: The exciting clinches and the many eliminations

The Carolina Hurricanes have been around for 23 seasons, and since their relocation in 1997, they have seen quite a few different outcomes in their quests for the playoffs.

Detroit Red Wings v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

On April 26, in Game 48 of their 2020-21 season, the Carolina Hurricanes clinched their third consecutive playoff berth for the first time in team history.

It’s a pretty nice feeling to not have to worry till the last possible game of the season and watch the team lose in embarrassing fashion to miss the playoffs.

In the 23 seasons that the Carolina Hurricanes have been in the NHL, the team has made the playoffs just eight times and there were some pretty miserable stretches in it all.

Let’s take a look back at the highs and lows of the Hurricanes’ playoff pursuits.

The Lows

With 15 eliminations from postseason contention, the list of low points for the Hurricanes is quite extensive with 12 individual teams having knocked Carolina out of the playoff picture over their history.

We present The List of Shame:

April 14, 1998 — The Ottawa Senators defeated the Florida Panthers 3-2 to punch the final ticket in the playoffs. The Hurricanes lost five straight games to finish the season and missed the playoffs by nine points.

April 9, 2000 — Final games of the season. The Carolina Hurricanes needed a win and needed the Buffalo Sabres to lose in regulation to the Washington Capitals. The Canes defeated Atlanta 2-1, but the Sabres and Capitals ended in a 1-1 tie. Carolina missed the playoffs by one point.

March 18, 2003 — The Canes are bad. They are eliminated in Game 74 by the Ottawa Senators. They miss the playoffs by 22 points.

March 23, 2004 — The Canes aren’t quite as bad. They are eliminated in Game 76 by the Philadelphia Flyers. They miss the playoffs by 15 points.

April 7, 2007 — The Carolina Hurricanes are worn down from their Stanley Cup run. They lose five of their last eight games and cap out at 88 points, but there was no catching the New York Islanders. They miss the playoffs by four points.

April 4, 2008 — The Canes are down to the wire in a race with the Washington Capitals for the Southeast Division. The Canes on the other hand lose Game 82, 4-3 to the Florida Panthers with a chance to clinch. Washington defeats Florida the next day, and the Canes go from third to ninth (division winners were seeded 1-2-3 under the old format) in the playoff standings on the final day of the regular season.

April 3, 2010 — Canes again can’t muster a strong season. Eliminated by the Devils in a 4-0 shutout in Game 79. Miss playoffs by eight points.

April 9, 2011 — Game 82. The Carolina Hurricanes were in control of their own fate. Two points behind the New York Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot, but in control of the first tiebreaker, regulation or overtime wins.

Two points and they’re in. That was it.

There was hope entering the final contest with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Canes were entering with some swagger having just finished dismantling the Atlanta Thrashers the game before by a final score of 6-1 and more than anything, Tampa had nothing to play for. Their playoff spot was set, unable to move up or down.

But experience Canes hockey…

The Lightning won before the opening 20 minutes had even expired as a three-goal first period helped them coast to a 6-2 win and eliminate the Hurricanes from playoff contention.

And then the dark days really set in. #TakeWarning.

March 30, 2012 — The Hurricanes lost 16 games in overtime this season including a 4-3 overtime loss to the new Winnipeg Jets in Game 78 to be eliminated. They miss the playoffs by 10 points.

April 18, 2013 — It’s a shortened season due to the lockout and the Canes still suck. They are eliminated oddly enough in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets in Game 43. They miss the playoffs by 13 points.

April 8, 2014 — Another season, another disappointing Canes season. They make it to Game 79 still mathematically capable, but a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers ends their hopes. They miss the playoffs by 10 points.

March 23, 2015 — The worst season in Carolina Hurricanes history. They were eliminated in Game 72 in a 3-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. They miss the playoffs by 27 points.

April 2, 2016 — Oh hey, the Canes are better. That means that they are still bad though. They make it closer to the mark but are eliminated in Game 79 in a blowout 5-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. They miss the playoffs by 10 points.

April 2, 2017 — Different season, same story. One year to the date of their last elimination, the Canes fell 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins and were eliminated in Game 78. They miss the playoffs by eight points.

March 31, 2018 — It feels like they’re getting closer, but they weren’t. Game 79. 2-1 loss to the Rangers. Miss playoffs by 14 points.

The Highs

Well that was depressing, so let’s look back at some happier times starting with Carolina’s first ever playoff berth.

The Hurricanes’ first ever playoff berth was actually secured, not by the Canes, but in fact on an off-day for them by an unlikely hero: the Buffalo Sabres.

At the time, the lowly Southeast Division had only a single playoff spot up for grabs — the guaranteed spot for the division leader. It really was a floundering division at times.

So the race was coming down to two teams, the Carolina Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers, and it really seemed like neither team wanted it, although Carolina was the frontrunner.

Coming into Game 78, the Florida Panthers were on a five-game losing streak and the Carolina Hurricanes had won just two games in their last 10.

On April 7, Carolina was offered its first chance to clinch the spot and they faced the Montreal Canadiens. They were shut out in a 2-0 loss.

So two days later, the Canes were putting their hopes on the Buffalo Sabres as they hosted the Panthers.

And the eventual cup runner-ups took care of business. The Sabres cruised to a 3-1 win with the game winner being sealed by Micahel Peca.

Sometimes, your enemies can help you out every once in a while, so cheers to the Sabres for their help in the Hurricanes’ first ever playoff appearance.

After that, the Canes’ first back-to-back playoff appearances were capped off by Martin Gelinas in a 3-2 win over the Atlanta Thrashers in Game 81 in 2001 heading in as an eight seed and Jeff O’Neill in 2002 with a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 80 to clinch the Southeast division.

The year of the Stanley Cup win, it all seemed to fall into place as the Canes clinched pretty early in the season — game 71 to be exact. One of their major deadline acquisitions, Mark Recchi, scored the game winner in a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning and the rest was history.

The Canes would miss the next two playoffs, but they righted the ship in 2009 and punched their ticket back in with an Anton Babchuk slapshot in an overtime winner against the Pittsburgh Penguins in game 79.

In 2019, it was another defenseman clapper as Justin Faulk’s power play blast would be the game-winning goal against the New Jersey Devils in game 81 that ended the decade-long playoff drought.

The levels of excitement in the building slowly growing from the Faulk goal, to Nino Niederreiter scoring the third goal to bolster the lead, to the in arena video board showing that Montreal had lost and all capped off by Petr Mrazek’s, “We’re in! We’re in! Yes! Yes! Whoo!” created a magical moment.

Last season never saw a true clinch for the postseason as the regular season was suspended before completion. Maybe you could count the play in round as a sort of playoff clincher and in that case, it was a pretty smooth clinch.

And most recently it was the newest Cane, Jani Hakanpaa, whose late third-period goal sent Carolina to overtime with the Dallas Stars, securing the one point they needed to clinch with 69 points.

The team is now in control of potentially winning the first President’s Trophy in team history and is playing at a high level. It will be an exciting time seeing what this team is capable of.