It’s almost time for the Stanley Cup Playoffs to start, but don’t get too caught up in the moment that you forget what it took to get here.
Who would have thought three years ago, when the Carolina Hurricanes clinched a playoff berth in the second to last game of that season, ending a nine-year postseason drought, that they would be on to their fourth-consecutive appearance.
In fact, this has now been the longest postseason appearance streak in team history since relocation.
And Carolina did it by winning back-to-back Division titles and posting the highest wins total (54) and points (116) for a regular season in franchise history.
“You need to take a minute and just realize that it has been a pretty darn good year,” said Rod Brind’Amour after the Canes clinched the Metro. “We’ve done what we wanted to do. We know that there’s better things that we’re trying to accomplish, but we set out wanting to be the best after 82 games. Now we’re the top of our division, which is great. That’s a huge accomplishment and you’ll enjoy it for a little while, but we’ll be right back at it here tomorrow. We know we’re trying to do bigger and better things.”
The expectations in Raleigh are no longer just for the Canes to make the playoffs, but it’s now for them to go all the way in the playoffs. The bar has been raised.
“I think if you want to put it in perspective, I got here four years ago and the goal was to be relevant again,” said Jordan Martinook. “Just to see year after year the change of expectations and what is wanted and expected out of this group is probably the biggest thing that I could put into words. The first year we made the playoffs, and it was like the sky was falling. The next year it was ‘Ok, now we’re not going to be seventh or eighth, we’re going to be second or third.’ Now it’s we demand to be the best. Moving forward, we’ve put ourselves in a good position with home ice. Now we’ve got to prove what kind of team we are.”
Obviously the players won’t be satisfied with anything less than a championship, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else should disregard all the work that the Hurricanes put in throughout the rest of the season.
The long grinds, the adversity, the bumps in the road, but also the exciting wins, the special moments and all the things that make a season fun along the way.
For example, the nine-game win streak to start the season, the two wins the Canes got while a good portion of the roster was out with due to COVID-19, the comeback win on New Year’s Day against the Blue Jackets. Even a Jordan Staal hat trick!
The seven-month race just to qualify for a chance at Lord Stanley has provided a lot of excitement and buzz for the city and team, but this continued success has, more than anything, rejuvenated the franchise.
These strong seasons that the Hurricanes are putting together are bringing in fans, revenue and relevance. Even if the Cup isn’t being raised, the team is still seeing success through the impact that they are having on the fanbase and community.
“I’m glad I got to stick around long enough to be where we’re at now and be part of it and the solution,” said Staal after the team clinched it’s fourth-straight playoff berth. “It’s exciting. Our fans have been great. They’ve jumped on board with this group, and we’ve really kind of elevated our game. I think there’s a really good future for this club.”
Every year, the goal is to win the Cup, but for a franchise to even have a shot at the coveted trophy, they have to be good enough to qualify. Every year you do that, is another chance at winning it all.
But the Stanley Cup is one of the hardest trophies in sports to win. The grueling grind to the top, the unpredictability of the sport and the total team effort required means that a team will need not only the skills and stamina to survive, but to also be the beneficiary of more than a couple of lucky breaks along the way.
It takes 16 wins to crown a champion but only four losses to be eliminated.
It’s all about who peaks at the right time to be the hottest team in that small window.
Once that puck is dropped for Game 1, nothing else in that 82-game season matters anymore. Everything is starting fresh. From the 16 teams that enter the gauntlet, only one will be left standing at the top.
“I wish you got rewarded more for the 82 games,” Brind’Amour said. “If you really think about it, that’s a grind. To do it the way our group did it is pretty special. Unfortunately, how much do you really want to enjoy it? We want to get to that next phase, and that starts next.”
It’s a difficult and hard to reach goal, but it’s what most everyone in hockey aims for.
“That’s the whole point of why you play hockey, right?,” said Sebastian Aho. “You play for the playoffs. You play for the win and to be the best team. We are very proud that we’re headed to the playoffs, but at the same time we just need to put our head down and go to work.”
The playoffs are imminent and the regular season will soon be a distant memory, but as you are preparing for the climb to the summit, don’t forget about the journey from the base.