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Tampa Bay clobbers Carolina 6-2; Rangers top Hurricanes for East’s eighth seed

Apr 9, 2011, 10:04 PM EDT

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Cory Stillman, Vincent Lecavalier, Brett Clark, Martin St. Louis AP

Earlier this week, it looked like the Carolina Hurricanes would need some help to get into the Eastern Conference playoffs. Instead, the Canes gained a win-and-you’re-in opportunity tonight and absolutely blew it. They will finish two points short of a playoff spot, as the New York Rangers finish ahead in the East thanks to today’s surprising results.

Hours after the Rangers rode a three-goal second period to earn a resounding win against their hated rivals from New Jersey, the Hurricanes allowed three first period goals by their own division foes from Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay 6, Carolina 2

There are plenty of excuses the Hurricanes can give for soiling themselves in this game. One pundit speculated that they might have been “too tight” in such a huge match. If you ask me, there might have been some fatigue involved too. The Hurricanes absolutely throttled the Atlanta Thrashers last night, but one must wonder if they kicked Atlanta around so vigorously that they didn’t have much juice left against the Bolts. Heck, maybe the Lightning wanted to win one for their former head coach John Tortorella.

You can call that previous paragraph a small list of reasons or a steady stream of excuses, but the bottom line is that Carolina got exactly what they wanted but couldn’t cash in on the opportunity. When you consider the upward trend showed by teams like the Thrashers, New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs for next season, the Canes might be kicking themselves for even longer than expected.

Dominic Moore, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos scored in the first period to give Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead they wouldn’t yield. Brett “The Hitman” Clark padded that lead to 4-0. Cory Stillman found the net on a power-play opportunity late in the second and Chad LaRose scored 8:33 into the third to make it more interesting at 4-2, but empty-net goals by Simon Gagne and Martin St. Louis shut the door on any hopes of a comeback.

Mike Smith was outstanding in the game, making 42 out of 44 saves and nearly scoring a goal of his own on Carolina’s empty net. He only allowed one goal in the third period, even though the desperate Hurricanes put 17 shots on goal.

To continue the theme of missed opportunities, Carolina’s power play had plenty of chances to inject life into their comeback, but they only scored once despite seven man advantages. Stillman’s goal was that one ray of light, but the team needed a 5-on-3 to make that happen.

Carolina showed some serious spirit in staying in the playoff picture, but ultimately, the Rangers wanted it more and won the big game. It’s going to be a long, long summer for the Hurricanes because of one floptastic night.

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