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About Last Night: Division champs...again

The Carolina Hurricanes beat the Florida Panthers 6-4 in Sunrise Thursday night, wrapping up their third straight division title.

Carolina Hurricanes v Florida Panthers Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

With a wacky 6-4 win — that was in a lot of ways a microcosm of the season as a whole — the Carolina Hurricanes wrapped up their second straight Metropolitan Division title Thursday night against the Panthers.

Carolina jumped ahead to a 2-0 lead, let Florida even things up, jumped out in front again and then had some shakiness in the final minutes, ultimately winning a game that sealed the top spot in the Metro for the second year in a row.

About last night:

Goal No. 1 — Check

Things got a little bit iffy down the homestretch of the season, but in the end the Hurricanes checked off the first box on the list of accomplishments with Thursday night’s win.

Heading into the game needing a victory to secure the Metro, the Canes battled to the 6-4 victory to put the final mark on a third straight division title. After winning the makeshift Central Division title in 2020-21, the Canes won the Metro for the first time ever in 2021-22.

Now in 2022-23, the Canes have won the Metro again, making Carolina somehow just the second franchise to win the Metro more than once. Formed in 2013, the Metro was one by the Pittsburgh Penguins in its inaugural season and then the New York Rangers the following year.

After that, the Washington Capitals rattled off five straight Metro titles. After the year away with the COVID-forced realignment, the Hurricanes have now taken the top spot in the uber-competitive division two years in a row.

It’s an accomplishment that, while not the end goal, still deserves to be fully celebrated by a team and fanbase that experienced so much mediocrity (a quite generous term, here) during the first years of the Metro.

The playoffs are where things really matter, yes. But winning the division, even with the struggles in the last month of the season, is still a big deal.

The postseason will get underway for the Canes early next week, and there are tons of questions about this team that may or may not get answered. But on this Friday, one day after grinding out a win they had to have to avoid a first-round meeting with the dangerous New York Rangers, let’s celebrate a third straight division crown for the Canes.

Actually about last night

As already mentioned here, the 6-4 win over the Florida Panthers Thursday was a pretty good metaphor for Carolina’s season as a whole.

Things started out fantastic, as Carolina took a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Brent Burns and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who each finished the regular season with 18 goals. A defenseman scoring for the Canes has been commonplace this year, obviously.

Florida battled back to make it 2-2, then the Canes jumped back ahead to a 5-2 lead thanks to another goal from Burns, another from a blue liner from Shayne Gostisbehere, and a hard-earned goal from Jesper Fast.

The end of the contest was shaky at best, as two goals from the Panthers in the final 2:02 of the game made things a little closer for comfort than the Canes would have hoped. Sebastian Aho ended that Hail Mary threat with an empty netter, wrapping up his season with a team-high 36 goals, two shy of tying his career high.

And in another ode to the season as a whole, Carolina’s power play went 0 for 4 while the penalty kill was 2 for 2 because...well, of course.

Now the fun begins

The 82-game grind of the regular season is done. The Canes will host the New York Islanders early next week, looking to get hot in the playoffs and make a run at the cup. The last month of the season hasn’t necessarily instilled confidence, but that also doesn’t matter.

What matters is what’s ahead. Let the games begin.