The Carolina Hurricanes went into the Eastern Conference finals as the favorite in the odds to win the Stanley Cup at +200 and exited quickly after being swept by the Florida Panthers.
The door seemed open for the Hurricanes, and it closed following four one-goal losses — two in overtime – against a team that barely made the playoffs. They managed six goals in the series after averaging almost five per contest in the Eastern semifinals versus the New Jersey Devils.
“It still stings a lot,” Carolina center Sebastian Aho told NHL.com. “It’ll stay with us for a long time. But we can also use it as fuel for the future.”
The Tampa Bay Lightning suffered some disparaging losses in the playoffs before breaking through to win Stanley Cups in 2020 and 2021. The Hurricanes hope to find the answers after winning at least one round in the postseason the past five seasons, reaching the Eastern finals twice.
What Happened In Conference Finals?
There are many reasons Carolina was swept in the Eastern finals and perhaps the biggest is the Hurricanes faced the wrong team at the wrong time.
Florida was on a roll after beating the Boston Bruins in the first round, the only team in the NHL that had more points than Carolina in the regular season.
The Hurricanes ultimately went cold on offense. Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was good, but Carolina went 2-for-14 on the power play in the series and could not take advantage of a 174-127 edge in shots on goal over four games. The Hurricanes are just the sixth team in NHL history to be swept and only outscored by four goals.
Carolina needed a sniper like Andrei Svechnikov (23 goals, 64 games) — lost to a season-ending ACL injury – and a full strength Teuvo Teravainen, who broke a hand in Game 2 of the first round before managing one point in four contests versus Florida. They suffered several injuries in Game 4 as well.
The Hurricanes were second in the league in goals-against per game and penalty killing, but did not add much offense at the deadline. Offensive defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere had three assists and forward Jesse Puljujarvi added one in the playoffs after being acquired late in the regular season. They needed a clutch, dependable scorer to step up versus Florida.
Carolina was never a great bet in the sportsbook this season, going 34-48 ATS in the regular season while being involved in 40 one-goal games..
General Manager Don Waddell and the Hurricanes’ brain trust will have to make some difficult decisions to keep this winning core group together over several more seasons.
The first question is what Carolina will do in goal. Both Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta are unrestricted free agents. They also have 23-year-old Pyotr Kochetkov, who is signed long term and could be ready to take a bigger role after going 12-7-5 with a .909 save percentage in the NHL this season.
“I hope we can get something done,” Andersen told NHL.com after posting a .927 SP in the postseason. “It’s my priority to be back here, but we’ll see how it goes.”
Right wing Jesper Fast, who led the Hurricanes with six goals in the playoffs, is an unrestricted free agent along with Gostisbehere and veteran forwards Derek Stepan, Paul Stastny and Jordan Staal. Left wing Max Pacioretty, who also could have contributed offensively, is unrestricted as well after suiting up for just five games in 2022-23 due to injury.
What might be a bigger concern is Aho and Teravainen, along with solid defensemen Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce are UFAs after next season while productive forwards Martin Necas (team-high 71 points in 22-23) and Seth Jarvis wll be restricted free agents.
You could perhaps see the Hurricanes moving a little defense out to improve the offense and still being among the top NHL Expert Picks for 2023-24.
Canes Still East Power
Don’t expect Carolina to go away. The Hurricanes may offer some value when the Las Vegas NHL odds come out for future Stanley Cup winners
If they had found a way to sneak one past Bobrovsky in Game 1 and 2 at home, the Hurricanes might be preparing for a Cup final.
“The unfortunate part is that everyone is going to look back and say we got swept. …,” coach Rod Brind’Amour told reporters. “We were right there and this could have gone another way. .. They played hard. I think we took huge steps (forward) this year.”
Carolina might not be a great bet game by game as shown by their ATS mark this season. But if you are making NHL Predictions for 2023-24, taking the Hurricanes to win the Eastern Conference is not a bad bet online.
We’re coming back even stronger. pic.twitter.com/8GOCxphVs0
— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) May 27, 2023
It starts with defense. Carolina keeps the puck out of the net. Veteran Brent Burns had a solid rebound season (61 points, +19) on the blue line and Jaccob Slavin is one of the top defensive defensemen in the league.
Svechnikov’s return will be big and perhaps Pacioretty comes back on a short-term deal. There could be cap space to add offense, even assuming the Hurricanes retain Staal and Fast. Others like youngsters Jack Drury and Vasily Ponomarev could add more offense.
Brind’Amour is a winner. He is 226-107-37 in five seasons at the helm. Expect Carolina to be a factor in 2023-24 and be among the top NHL Picks to win the Cup.