Hurricanes hoping for home ice

Published 2:23 pm Saturday, April 11, 2009

By By JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer
RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes enter another regular-season finale that will determine where they’re headed for the postseason — and, for a change, being sent home isn’t such a bad thing.
They’ve already clinched a playoff spot, so the only things left to decide during the NHL’s final weekend are the seedings and sites. Carolina — which plays at New Jersey on Saturday in the finale — finds itself in a logjam with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for the No. 4 seed in the East and home-ice advantage for at least one round of the postseason.
Not that the Hurricanes are stressing much about whether they’ll hit the road to start their first playoff series since 2006. They spent the last two postseasons at home — and were eliminated last year when they lost their critical home finale. This season they expected to get back to the playoffs, and are relieved to have accomplished that.
The Hurricanes — who, at 9-1 in their last 10 games, remain the NHL’s hottest team. They can finish no higher than fourth and no lower than sixth, and they will enter Saturday tied with the Flyers and Penguins with 97 points. Philadelphia has the advantage of a game in hand on both Carolina and Pittsburgh, but the Hurricanes’ 45 wins give them the tiebreaker over both teams.
Still, they’ll need some help from at least one of the New York teams — the Flyers play at the last-place Islanders on Saturday, and at home against the playoff-bound Rangers on Sunday.
A fourth- or fifth-place finish locks them into a series against either Pittsburgh or Philadelphia; finishing sixth means the season-ending matchup with the third-seeded Devils also doubles as a preview of their first-round series.
Carolina could have taken a step toward claiming home-ice advantage on Thursday night, but the Buffalo Sabres ended their nine-game winning streak in dominating fashion, routing the Hurricanes 5-1 and handing them their first loss at the RBC Center in seven weeks. In the immediate aftermath, Maurice said that performance would be ‘‘out in the garbage and not talked about again.’’
Then again, this wasn’t the first time the Hurricanes lost by four goals to Buffalo in a regular-season home finale.
It worked out pretty well the last time — they wound up winning the Stanley Cup in 2006.