Last season came down to 60 minutes of hockey for the Carolina Hurricanes. Eighty-one games had been previously played, and all that remained was one matchup with the rival Tampa Bay Lightning. Winning would mean the Hurricanes were in the playoffs, losing would mean they were going home. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, they trailed 3-0 just 13 minutes into the opening period. Carolina managed to cut the deficit to 4-2 in the third period but they couldn’t get any closer, and they watched their season come to a close with destiny in their own hands on home ice.
This season the Hurricanes expect nothing short of a playoff spot, and if they earn one in the tightly contested Eastern Conference they will most definitely deserve being there. Captain Eric Staal still leads the way for Carolina, compiling 33 goals and 76 points to lead the Hurricanes offensively. Sophomore Jeff Skinner will look to improve on his incredible rookie season as well. Skinner scored 31 goals and recorded 63 points, and if you watched him play last season you know he’s got all the talent in the world to surpass that this season.
On defense the always steady Cam Ward remains in goal for a seventh consecutive season. Ward posted 37 wins and 4 shutouts in 74 games last season for Carolina. It will be interesting to see if the addition of Brian Boucher will finally allow Ward to get some much needed rest during the year. The Hurricanes replaced the loss of Joe Corvo with Tomas Kaberle, and are hoping that the veteran Kaberle can assist the power play. Kaberle will be looked at to return to form after a sluggish playoff performance during the Boston Bruins Stanley Cup run last season.
The most devastating loss for Carolina was losing forward Erik Cole to the Montreal Canadiens in the offseason. The Hurricanes tried to retain Cole before the Canadiens were able to blow him out of the water with an $18 million contract. Cole scored 26 goals last season for Carolina and his speed was always a lethal weapon for a hockey club that loves to transition the puck up the ice quickly and generate short handed opportunities.
The Hurricanes countered the loss of Cole by acquiring forwards Tim Brent, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and Anthony Stewart. Stewart could be one of the most underrated signings of the year if he takes another step forward after his 14 goals and 29 points in his first full National Hockey League season. Stewart is the type of player that should fit right into the way the Hurricanes play hockey, and that might mean big things for both parties.
It will be tough sledding for the Hurricanes all season long, having to fight off the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals within their division, not to mention the numerous other good hockey clubs in the East. If Boucher is capable of playing around 15 games and spelling Ward, the Hurricanes should have enough to be a playoff team this year.