If the 2021 COVID-era division format is indeed a one off, the Carolina Hurricanes will go down in NHL history as the lone champion in this iteration of the Central Division.
Following the Dallas Stars’ 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning Friday night, the Hurricanes have clinched the top spot in the Central, their first division championship since winning the Southeast Division in the 2005-06 season.
Coming into this season, few pegged the Hurricanes as division champs in a group of eight that featured both of last year’s Stanley Cup finalists (who, ironically, played each other in the game that sealed the Hurricanes’ fate).
But this team overcame injuries to key players and unusual circumstances to come through with its best regular season in franchise history, one that includes just the fourth division championship in Carolina team history.
The Hurricanes’ first round opponent will be either the Nashville Predators or Dallas Stars. Nashville currently holds the fourth and final spot in the division, and their magic number for the division is two points. Dallas closes with two games in Chicago, while Nashville closes with two home games against... the Hurricanes, so Carolina will play a large role in determining its first-round opponent.
The Hurricanes still have plenty to play for in their final two games, in the form of the first President’s Trophy in franchise history. They’ll need a little help, as the Canes and Vegas Golden Knights have the same maximum point total - 84, but Vegas currently has more regulation wins, but it remains a distinct possibility.
The Hurricanes will play their penultimate game of the season against Nashville tomorrow at 8 p.m., followed by one more with the Predators Monday. Depending on how the fourth spot shakes out, it’s possible the Hurricanes could play the Predators in nine straight games.