Canes limp into playoffs with four losses in five games
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The best season in franchise history ended with a thud for the Carolina Hurricanes: four losses in their final five games, including one to Buffalo in the finale that cost them the top playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
Not exactly the best way to prepare for the postseason.
"It's tough to lose any time, but come tomorrow, nobody is going to be talking about this game," Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour said. "We made the playoffs and that's what we came here to do in September. Now, it is a new season."
It begins Saturday night in the first round against seventh-seeded Montreal, which lost four of six down the stretch following an eight-game winning streak. The Canadiens haven't been very good against the Hurricanes this season, either, losing all four games by a combined margin of 25-9.
Of course, considering the way the season ended, no one in the Carolina locker room felt particularly cocky.
"All that doesn't matter now," center Kevyn Adams said. "They're going to try to take something we want. Now it comes down to us being focused and really ready to go."
The struggles for the Hurricanes came mostly in their own zone -- they simply gave up too many goals. Discovering exactly why that happened is the challenge for coach Peter Laviolette and his staff.
Yes, starting goaltender Martin Gerber suddenly lost a bit of his reliability between the pipes, allowing 28 goals in his final seven starts and at least three goals in each of them. Many were of the "soft" variety, and one of those came in the loss to the Sabres on Tuesday night.
An unscreened shot by Brian Campbell slipped between Gerber's right arm and his chest to give Buffalo a 2-0 lead. But Carolina missed a couple of opportunities to clear the puck before Campbell got possession, so all the blame doesn't fall on the player in net.
"For me, we just weren't skating," Laviolette said. "To play our game, it's up-tempo, there's a lot of effort that goes into it, and we were on our heels pretty much the entire night."
Despite the disappointing conclusion, Laviolette has plenty to be happy about. The Hurricanes finished with 52 victories and 112 points, both the best totals in a history that dates back to their inception as the Hartford Whalers in 1979.
They also had the best home record in the Eastern Conference at 31-8-2 and reached the playoffs for the first time since an improbable run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2002.
"You don't want to choke your last game of the year, but we can't dwell on it," defenseman Mike Commodore said. "Obviously, it would have been nice to win the East, but now it is a clean slate. Second is pretty nice. Let's get the playoffs started."
And if Carolina comes out strong against Montreal, few will remember the rough patch at the end of the season.
"Sometimes in this game, you have to have a short memory," Adams said. "You have to leave it at the rink and leave it alone. We're excited to be in the playoffs and to be playing at home in the playoffs."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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