Hurricanes ousted from playoffs due to penalty kill, injuries

The Carolina Hurricanes were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning, losing 2-0 in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Second Round on Tuesday.

The Hurricanes (36-12-8) were the No. 1 seed in the Discover Central Division and were 4-3-1 against the Lightning in the regular season.

Here’s a look at what happened during the 2021 postseason for the Hurricanes and why things could be better next season:

The skinny

Potential unrestricted free agents: Jordan Martinook, F; Max McCormick, F; Brock McGinn, F; Cedric Paquette, F; Drew Shore, F; Jani Hakanpaa, D; Dougie Hamilton, D; Roland McKeown, D; Joakim Ryan, D; Antoine Bibeau, G; Petr Mrazek, G; James Reimer, G

Potential restricted free agents: Warren Foegele, F; Morgan Geekie, F; Andrei Svechnikov, F; Jake Bean, D; Maxime Lajoie, D; Alex Nedeljkovic, G

Potential 2021 NHL Draft picks: 8

What went wrong

Forward injuries

Carolina was unable to overcome the loss of several key forwards. Nino Niederreiter missed the first four games of the second round with an upper-body injury sustained at practice the day before the series began. Vincent Trocheck missed Games 3 and 4 with a lower-body injury sustained when he collided with Foegele late in the second period of Game 2. Each returned for Game 5. Niederreiter scored 34 points (20 goals, 14 assists) in 56 regular-season games and one goal in seven playoff games. Trocheck scored 43 points (17 goals, 26 assists) in 47 regular-season games and three points (two goals, one assist) in nine playoff games. Foegele sustained an upper-body injury in Game 3, and although he played Game 4, he did not play Game 5. He scored 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) in 53 regular-season games and two points (one goal, one assist) in 10 playoff games. 

Too many penalties

The penalty kill had some strong performances but eventually the Lightning were going to break through. The Hurricanes allowed three power-play goals on six opportunities in a 6-4 loss in Game 4. Lightning forward Brayden Point scored the series-winning goal on the power play in the second period of Game 5. Carolina was 9-for-16 (56.3 percent) on the penalty kill.

Couldn’t solve Vasilevskiy

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy kept the Hurricanes from capitalizing on many of their chances. Carolina scored four goals in Game 4 but lost. Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said that was a game they had to win because “he’s probably not going to let in four again.” Vasilevskiy didn’t, with a 29-save shutout in Game 5.  

Reasons for optimism

Nedeljkovic ready for more

Nedeljkovic was 15-5-3 with a 1.90 goals-against average, .932 save percentage and three shutouts in the regular season and was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year. He started nine of 11 playoff games and was 4-5 with a 2.17 GAA, .920 save percentage and one shutout. The 25-year-old, who can become a restricted free agent July 28, looked confident and showed he can handle a heavier workload, especially in the playoffs. Reimer and Mrazek can each become an unrestricted free agent and it’s likely Nedeljkovic, if signed, will be the No. 1 next season.

Staal still strong

Jordan Staal was a steady contributor in the playoffs, scoring eight points (five goals, three assists) in 11 games, second on the Hurricanes to forward Sebastian Aho, who scored 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 11 games. Staal scored 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists) in 53 regular-season games, which included 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) on the power play. The 32-year-old has two years remaining on a 10-year, $60 million contract ($6 million average annual value) he signed July 1, 2012, and showed he has plenty left. 

Core group returning

Although Hamilton is a pending unrestricted free agent and Nedeljkovic and Svechnikov are each a pending restricted free agent, Carolina has a good core in place for at least another season with forwards Teuvo Teravainen, Aho, Niederreiter, Staal and Trocheck; and defensemen Jaccob Slavin and Brady Skjei. The Hurricanes should be able to contend for the Stanley Cup Playoffs again next season even if they lose players as free agents.

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