On the north side of the Carolina Hurricanes' locker room, above the doors that players enter and leave through each day, is a dual-sided placard.
On one side, as the players enter, it reads: Earn It.
On the other side, as the players leave, it reads: Did You?
The Canes certainly did earn it in the 2020-21 regular season. In 56 games, they assembled one of their best seasons in franchise history and secured first place in the Central Division, the team's first division title since 2005-06 and fourth since arriving in North Carolina.
2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
The Canes finished with a 36-12-8 record and 80 points, marking the highest single-season points percentage (.714) in franchise history. In doing so, they clinched their third consecutive postseason appearance, a first for the team in North Carolina.
"The expectation here is to win," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "We've got a long road ahead of us, and it's going to be a huge challenge, but that's the expectation."
In January, the Canes battled back from a COVID-19 shutdown with a depleted lineup to earn six of a possible six points against the two Stanley Cup finalists from a year ago.
From late February into March, the Canes responded to losing consecutive games in regulation for the first time in the season with eight straight wins, just a win shy of tying their longest winning streak in franchise history.
From mid-April into early May, the Canes captured points in 13 straight games (9-0-4), which equaled a franchise best.
The Canes failed to earn a point in just three of 28 home games. They posted a 20-3-5 record at PNC Arena, an .804 points percentage that ranked tied for second in the NHL this season and was a franchise-best for a single season.
Special teams play was special, too. The Canes owned the league's second-best power play that converted 25.6% of its chances and the league's third-best penalty kill that successfully dispatched 85.2% of the opposition's power-play opportunities.
Sebastian Aho crossed the 20-goal threshold for the fifth time in as many seasons in his NHL career. Had this been a typical 82-game season, Aho was on pace to score 35 goals, which would have marked his third consecutive 30-goals season. He was the Central Division's Star of the Month for April after recording 18 points (6g, 12a) in 16 games, and he posted a season-long, nine-game point streak from late April into May.
Vincent Trocheck had a resurgent campaign and finished second on the team in scoring with 43 points (17g, 26a) in 47 games. Though his 15 goals were fifth-most on the team, Svechnikov ranked third in points with 42 in 55 games, and he eclipsed the 100-point mark for his career in just the second game of the season.
Dougie Hamilton totaled 42 points (10g 32a) in 55 games and posted a 14-game point streak (2g, 14a) from Feb. 27-March 27. It was the longest point streak by an NHL defenseman and the second-longest by any NHL skater in the 2020-21 season.
In March alone, Martin Necas was the NHL's Third Star of the Week and then the NHL's Second Star of the Week, as he led the team with 17 points (7g, 10a) during the month. He finished his sophomore campaign with 41 points (14g, 27a) in 53 games.
While Petr Mrazek was sidelined with a right thumb injury, Alex Nedeljkovic burst into the crease with a breakout rookie season. He finished the year with a 15-5-3 record and three shutouts. His 1.90 goals-against average and .932 save percentage ranked first in the NHL among goaltenders who played at least 20 games. His numbers to finish the season were even better: 7-1-1 with a 1.55 goals-against average, a .945 save percentage and one shutout in his last nine appearances.
The litany of both team and individual statistical triumphs is not a happy accident. It's the result of months of thorough preparation and an unmatched work ethic, both on and off the ice. It's the result of having the depth and talent to successfully complement those aspects. It's the result of fighting for and attaining those critical inches that set elite teams apart from the rest of the field.
It's the expectation - but it's still just the beginning.
The Canes earned home ice through at least the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Canes earned their confidence and their swagger. The Canes earned their role as the top dogs rather than the underdogs.
"Our main goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and whatever we need to do to get there and whatever we need to say to each other - that's our main objective," Jordan Martinook said. "It doesn't matter if you're the underdog or top dog. We've got one thing on our mind."
Earn it. Did you? The Canes did.
And now they have to prove it.
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