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Hurricanes clinch first place in Discover Central Division

Will play Stars or Predators, have home-ice advantage in first round of Stanley Cup Playoffs

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / Staff Writer

The Carolina Hurricanes clinched first place in the Discover Central Division on Friday.

Carolina (36-10-8), which clinched when the Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the Dallas Stars 5-2, will play the Stars or Nashville Predators in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Hurricanes will have home-ice advantage in the best-of-7 series.

"It's a great accomplishment because it shows that all the work that's gone in from everybody in this organization paid off to this point, right?," coach Rod Brind'Amour said Saturday. "Like everything we did, the work we've put in, you get to check the box and it worked. But now there's the next phase that everyone talks about. That's what matters. We've still got this little window right here to get through. That's what we have to try to stay focused on."

The Lightning will play the Florida Panthers in the division's other playoff series, with their seeding to be determined.

Forward Sebastian Aho leads the Hurricanes with 57 points (24 goals, 33 assists) this season. Four others have scored at least 40 points: forwards Vincent Trocheck, 43; Andrei Svechnikov, 42; and Martin Necas, 41. and defenseman Dougie Hamilton, 42;

James Reimer is 15-5-2 with a 2.66 goals-against average and .906 save percentage in 22 games (21 starts). Rookie Alex Nedeljkovic is 15-4-3 with a 1.89 GAA, .932 save percentage and three shutouts in 22 games. Petr Mrazek is 6-1-3 with a 1.77 GAA, .934 save percentage and three shutouts in 11 games.

Carolina is 6-0-0 against Nashville this season and ends the regular season against them with games Saturday and Monday.

Aho (five goals, three assists) and Trocheck (three goals, five assists) lead the Hurricanes with eight points each against the Predators, and Svechnikov (three goals, four assists) and Hamilton (one goal, six assists) each have scored seven points. Reimer is 3-0-0 (1.67 goals-against average, .952 save percentage), Nedeljkovic is 2-0-0 (1.45 GAA, .941 save percentage), and Mrazek made 19 saves in a 4-1 win on April 15.

The Hurricanes were 6-1-1 against the Stars. Forward Jordan Staal scored 10 points (five goals, five assists), Aho scored nine points (two goals, seven assists), and Trocheck scored eight points (two goals, six assists). Reimer was 3-0-1 with a 2.70 GAA and .898 save percentage, Nedeljkovic was 2-1-0 with a 2.29 GAA and .915 save percentage, and Mrazek made 28 saves in a 1-0 shutout win April 4.

It is their fourth regular-season division title in Carolina, the first since winning the Southeast Division in 2005-06, when the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup.

"Of course it shows what a great accomplishment we've done so far this year, but at the end of the day you want to be the last team standing and that's what we're focused on right now," forward Jesper Fast said. "It's going to hopefully be a good journey here when the playoffs start." independent correspondent Robby Stanley contributed to this report

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