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For Hurricanes, a frustrating finish

by Robert Picarello

Sergei Samsonov was a bright spot for the Hurricanes, as he tallied 32 points in 38 games after coming over from Chicago. The total was more than he posted in the 2006-07 campaign. VIEW Samsonov highlights!
At the end of the 2007-08 season, the Carolina Hurricanes made history, but it was a far different story than the joyful one authored during the 2005-06 campaign, when the club won its first Stanley Cup championship.

After sitting atop the Southeast Division for most of the season, the 'Canes handed over first place to the Washington Capitals on the final day of the regular season. Carolina had numerous chances to clinch the division title down the stretch, but the Hurricanes couldn't seal the deal, dropping four of their final six games – two against the surging Caps. By failing to qualify for the postseason, the Hurricanes became the first team ever to miss the playoffs two seasons in a row after winning the Stanley Cup.

With the way the team came out of the gate, no one could have predicted Carolina's colossal collapse at the end of the season. The Hurricanes started off winning seven of their first 13 games. At the quarter mark, the club was sitting pretty at 12-6-3, but then the injury bug bit. When all was said and done, the Hurricanes lost 333 man-games to injury this season, the most since the '02-03 campaign, when the team lost a then-franchise high 290 man-games to injury.

In December and January, the 'Canes managed to win just 12 of their 28 games, giving other teams in the conference and division a chance to get back in the playoff race. With a makeshift lineup after the All-Star break, Carolina made a gallant effort to stay in the playoff picture, finishing up the second half by going 19-8-2 in their final 29 games. Call-ups like Ryan Bayda, Keith Aucoin, Wade Brookbank and Tim Conboy filled in admirably in the second half for injured vets like Rod Brind'Amour, Justin Williams, Matt Cullen, Chad LaRose and Ray Whitney. Waiver-wire pickup Sergei Samsonov also chipped in, making it appear as though Carolina was on its way back to the postseason.

But the 'Canes faltered when it mattered most, going 5-4-1 in their last 10 games, missing out on a chance to win their fourth Southeast title in the nine-year history of the division. Rumors swirled at the conclusion of the '07-08 campaign about whether or not head coach Peter Laviolette was going to be brought back after his team's cave-in during the final week of the season.

After over a month of speculation, the Hurricanes announced that Laviolette would indeed be brought back for a fifth season. He is 155-119-28 in his four seasons with the 'Canes.

Samsonov will also be sticking around after signing a new three-year deal. The 29-year old scored 14 goals and 18 assists in 38 games with Carolina. Before getting plucked off the waiver wire on Jan. 8 from the Blackhawks, Samsonov had just four assists in 23 games with Chicago. Samsonov wound up equaling that point total in just his fourth game with the Hurricanes. As a matter of fact, during his run with the 'Canes, Samsonov was Carolina's second-best producer on offense behind only team leader Eric Staal. The gifted winger closed out the year by notching points in 10 of the final 15 games.

"We were very excited about Sergei's play after he arrived in Carolina," Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said. "It was important to the success of our team going forward that we keep him here."

Two other players who are important to the success of the 'Canes are Eric Staal and starting goalie Cam Ward.

Staal finished the year as the Hurricanes' leader in just about every offensive category, posting 82 points off 38 goals and 44 assists in 82 games. In Carolina's last 10 games, Staal did his best to get the team into the playoffs, scoring four goals and eight assists. In his last eight home games down the stretch, Staal entertained the 'Caniacs, scoring 16 points.

Ward also stood tall for Carolina, finishing the season 37-25-5 with a 2.75 GAA, a .904 save percentage and a career-best four shutouts. The 24-year old netminder was in net for 33 of the team’s last 34 games, including 13 consecutive from Jan. 17 to Feb. 16. Ward ended the season by starting 20 consecutive games, netting a 13-5-2 record during the exhausting run. The last Carolina netminder to start 20 or more consecutive games was Arturs Irbe, who started 26 straight from Feb. 18, 2001 to April 8, 2001, and compiled a 14-10-2 record in that span.

Ward came ready to play every time the Hurricanes faced off against one of the teams in their division. In 26 games against the Southeast, Ward finished with a 16-7-2 record with a 2.53 GAA, a .914 save percentage and one shutout. The Saskatoon native was also sharp against the Eastern Conference, registering 33 wins, a 2.76 GAA, a .904 save percentage and three shutouts in 60 games.


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