RALEIGH — It took until the eighth game at PNC Arena for the Carolina Hurricanes to lose on home ice in last year’s playoffs.
It also marked the end of their season.
The Hurricanes dispatched in Bruins in seven games in the first round, winning all four games in Raleigh to advance past an opponent that had given them postseason fits.
Then came a second round series with the Rangers. Carolina and New York split the first six games, with the home team coming out on top in each, setting up Game 7 in Raleigh.
The Hurricanes fell flat, losing 6-2 in front of the home crowd to end their season well short of the goal of winning a Stanley Cup.
On Wednesday, coach Rod Brind’Amour’s team gets to start over, and the Hurricanes will do it where last season ended — at PNC Arena when they face the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Carolina’s best players return for another crack at claiming Lord Stanley’s chalice, but the Hurricanes added more firepower — on both offense and defense — and appear, on paper, deeper than ever.
Here are a few things to watch as Carolina opens its 25th season since relocating to the Old North State.
“A Burns for all Seasons”
I might as well get the first Montgomery Burns/“The Simpsons” joke out of the way before Carolina’s season officially begins. Brent Burns is the shiny new Gummi Venus de Milo on the Hurricanes’ roster.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound defenseman has made himself at home both in the locker room and alongside Jaccob Slavin on the top defensive pair.
The 37-year-old Burns can’t be expected to still be the player who three times scored 20 goals in a season and won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman in 2017. But make no mistake, he’s an upgrade over Tony DeAngelo (traded to Philadelphia in the offseason) and is no run-of-the-mill aging blueliner.
Both Brind’Amour and strength coach Bill Burniston have raved about Burns’ conditioning and work ethic, and anyone playing alongside Slavin is sure to boost anyone’s play.
As Springfield’s oldest resident would say: “Excellent.”
Time to turn the corner
Brind’Amour’s top three lines have been pretty consistent throughout the preseason. Teuvo Teravainen and Seth Jarvis flank star center Sebastian Aho on the top line, while captain Jordan Staal is in the middle of Jesper Fast and newcomer Paul Stastny — replacing the departed Nino Niederreiter — on the team’s shutdown line.
And then there’s the trio of Andrei Svechnikov, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Martin Necas.
Svechnikov, coming off his first 30-goal season, looks even stronger and faster this year, and he seems poised to lift off into superstardom.
Then there are his two running mates. Kotkaniemi takes over for Vincent Trocheck — who exited Carolina after the loss to the Rangers only to sign with New York — a year removed from the offer sheet that brought him to Raleigh from Montreal.
He played just over 12 minutes a game a season ago, and adding about 50% more ice time and high-end talents on his wings set him up for a breakout season.
Necas is coming off a difficult season but looks revitalized. He’s bigger without losing his top-level speed and seems to have regained the confidence he lost during a tough contract year.
The duo combined for 69 points last season. If they can get to 100 or so this year, it will be a success.
Not out of their depth
Jack Drury learned quickly what competition for ice time will be like in Carolina. Expected to be the team’s fourth line center, the rookie instead found himself reassigned to the AHL’s Chicago Wolves after a mediocre camp.
Brind’Amour said Monday that Drury still “has a bright future,” but the move made a statement: A spot in Raleigh will be earned, not given.
Defenseman Calvin de Haan and Derek Stepan both did just that, getting contracts after coming to camp on professional tryouts, and journeyman Stefan Noesen went from leading the AHL in goals with the Wolves a year ago to a spot on the opening roster with the Hurricanes.
Meanwhile, Jordan Martinook was sent through waivers in a cap move, but it still showed the team was still willing to risk losing one of its alternate captains because of the other options on hand. That team is glad No. 48 is still around, but he too will have to scratch and claw for a spot on the ice each night.
New addition Ondrej Kase, if he can stay healthy, could make his way into the top nine, even the top six, if he thrives or anyone falters.
On defense, returning players Ethan Bear and Jalen Chatfield will need to fight past both de Haan and newcomer Dylan Coghlan for time on the third pair.
It makes for a lot of decisions for the coaching staff.
“We’re gonna have extra players, and they’re all not gonna play,” Brind’Amour said Monday, “and that’s where it gets tough. … It’s a good problem to have. If we’re healthy, that’s gonna be an issue probably all year.”
And if the Hurricanes can end their season with a win on PNC Arena ice, those issues will all be forgotten.