The Carolina Hurricanes punched their ticket to first place in the Central Division Friday after the Dallas Stars defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning by a final score of 5-2.
That means the Hurricanes will play either the Stars or Nashville Predators in the first round of the playoffs, plus they have home ice advantage.
The 36-10-8 Hurricanes picked up their fourth division title in Carolina and first since they won the Southeast Division, way back in 2005-2006 when they won the Stanley Cup.
Carolina will tangle with Nashville Saturday in what could be a first round preview.
The Hurricanes are 6-0-0 against the Predators this season and will play them again Monday to wrap up the regular season. Conversely, Carolina is 6-1-1 against the Stars.
It is interesting to chart the course of history, what with the two Stanley Cup finalists from last season sealing the first place fate of the Hurricanes.
Few counted Carolina among the most potent teams in the Central, but they sit five points ahead of the Lightning and Florida Panthers with 80. They are a full 20 ahead of Nashville in front of Saturday’s tilt and the Preds own the only negative goal differential (minus-five) among the playoff-ready teams in the division.
Carolina, however, boasts 178 goals for and 128 goals against for a differential of plus-50 – superior to Tampa’s current differential of plus-42.
This has been a top-tier season for the Hurricanes and they could capture the President’s Trophy when it’s all said and done. Their point total is tops in the league right now, although the Vegas Golden Knights will challenge because they currently have more regulation wins.
Sebastian Aho leads the way for Carolina in scoring with 57 points in 54 games, including 24 goals and 33 assists. Vincent Trocheck has 43 points in 45 games, while Andrei Svechnikov has 42 points in 54 games.
Nine players on the Hurricanes have over 20 points in this truncated season, no small feat considering the role injuries played in their year. Teuvo Teravainen has been limited to 19 games, but the Helsinki native still collected 15 points – including a three-point night on May 6 against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Hurricanes are ready to rumble in the post-season and could make a serious run for it. They’ve enjoyed a phenomenal regular season and are the type of team that can sneak under the radar if you haven’t been paying much attention. A lot hinges on the Predators, a squad they could face an awful lot over the next several days if their playoff fortunes align.