RALEIGH — The SouthLeast Division is back.
The Hurricanes will face the Panthers in the Eastern Conference finals after Florida defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2 on Friday when Nick Cousins scored the overtime winner in Game 5 in Toronto. The Hurricanes, with their Game 5 win over New Jersey on Thursday, reached the NHL’s final four for the second time in five seasons and the fifth time in history.
The two teams used to be division foes in the old Southeast Division — often derisively called the SouthLeast due to its lack of top-tier teams. The two teams have never met in the playoffs.
Carolina, which finished with the second-best record in the NHL, won two of three games against the Panthers during the regular season, losing 3-0 on Nov. 9 in Sunrise, returning the favor with a 4-0 shutout Dec. 30 in Raleigh and clinching the Metropolitan Division with a 6-4 win in the regular season finale at Florida.
Brent Burns and Seth Jarvis led all Hurricanes players with four points in those three games. Burns had two goals and two assists, while Jarvis had four assists. The only other players with multiple points against the Panthers were Jesperi Kotkaniemi (two goals, one assist), Sebastian Aho (one goal, two assists) and Shayne Gostisbere (goal and assist in his one game against Florida after coming to Carolina).
Antti Raanta was 1-1-0 against the Panthers, stopping 53 of 55 shots he faced and posting the Dec. 30 shutout. Andersen picked up the victory in the Metro-clinching win, allowing four goals on 34 shots.
Florida, which eeked into the playoffs in the final days of the regular season as the No. 8 seed, also had five players with multiple points in the season series. Defensemen Radko Gudas and Brandon Montour each had three assists, Aleksander Barkov had two goals, and both Sam Bennett and Carter Verhaeghe had a goal and an assist.
Sergei Bobrovsky did not play against the Hurricanes this season. For his career, Bobrovsky is 13-13-1 with a .923 save percentage, 2.39 goals-against average and two shutouts against Carolina. Spencer Knight, who is unavailable, split his two starts this season, while Alex Lyon gave up four goals in the April 14 loss.
The start of the series is still unknown, and much will hinge on when the two Western Conference semifinal series are completed. The earliest the Hurricanes-Panthers series — which will start with Games 1 and 2 in Raleigh as Carolina has home-ice advantage for the rest of the playoffs — is Monday, but that would require both series out west to be completed in six games.
The only scheduling issue between the two teams is an event at FLA Live Arena on Saturday, April 20. That would complicate a Tuesday start of the series — at least if it was to be played on alternating days without any two-day breaks.
Seattle presents the biggest scheduling problem if the Kraken were to advance in the Western Conference. Climate Pledge Arena has events scheduled for May 20, 23 and 26.