PHILADELPHIA - Game 82 marks the conclusion of the regular season, but for the first time in 10 seasons, it's not the end of the road for the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes will square off with the Philadelphia Flyers in their regular-season finale, a last tune-up of sorts before the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin.
The Hurricanes clinched a playoff berth on Thursday night when they defeated the New Jersey Devils, 3-1, and got some help from a potential first-round opponent on the out-of-town scoreboard.
The state inside PNC Arena can only be described as euphoric, as the NHL's longest active playoff drought of nine seasons was toppled.
"There's a lot of emotion," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said after practice on Friday. "Just proud of getting back on the map for all the old Hurricanes players that did so much to put us on the map. That means a lot. It's a special day. It was a special night last night."
Game 82 won't be devoid of meaning, though. Three different seeding possibilities exist for the Hurricanes, depending on their result and a pair of games elsewhere involving Pittsburgh and Columbus.
The challenge, then, is to recapture that energy that, in three short months, propelled this team from the depths of the standings and into a playoff spot.
"It's going to be tough, I know, because we put so much emotional and mental stress into this year, but I know the guys will play hard," Brind'Amour said. "The good news is, no matter what happens, we're still playing."
No Rest for the Weary
Captain Justin Williams earned a well-deserved day off the ice on Friday.
"I don't remember having those," his head coach joked.
The Hurricanes are carrying just one extra healthy forward, so the team is limited in options for resting players. The one change the Canes could make is to dress Saku Maenalanen in place of a forward who might be a bit banged up. Even still, this game isn't an afterthought, even if the Canes aren't playing for their postseason lives.
"The game means something, so it's tough to sit here and go, 'Well, let's rest these guys,'" Brind'Amour said. "We're still playing for something there. You're not really sure how it all shakes out."
The Last Meeting
The Canes officially eliminated the Flyers from postseason contention in a 5-2 win just a week ago in Raleigh. Claude Giroux opened the scoring at the 12:05 mark of the first period, but Teuvo Teravainen answered with his 20th goal of the season 90 seconds later. Just 21 seconds after that, Dougie Hamilton put the Canes ahead, 2-1, a lead they maintained for the balance of the game.
That loss in Raleigh was the first in what is now a series of four straight for the Flyers. After being shut out by the Rangers on Sunday, the Flyers were tripled up in Dallas, 6-2, and then routed in St. Louis, 7-3. Philadelphia has posted a 19-17-4 record at home this season.
ADVANCE AUTO PARTS KEYS TO THE GAME
It may be hard to rachet up the emotional intensity necessary for tonight's game, but the Canes have to do so. They're in the playoffs no matter the outcome, but tonight's game still carries seeding implications.
The Canes have one way they have to play in order to be successful. Play hard and don't let the effort slip.
This is Game 82, but this isn't the end. Finish the regular season strong before things really kick up a notch in the playoffs.
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