Despite dropping the opening game of its back-to-back at Dallas in overtime, 4-3, on Monday night, the Carolina Hurricanes still had plenty of reason to celebrate.
For the first time since the franchise moved to Raleigh, N.C., from Hartford, Conn. in 1997-98, the Hurricanes clinched a playoff berth for a third straight season. And thanks to Nashville’s 4-1 victory over Florida on Monday, Carolina (31-10-7, 69 points) remains two points ahead of the second-place Panthers with two games still in hand in the race for the Central Division title.
“I think that’s super important,” said Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour on battling back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to garner the playoff-clinching point. “What we got, eight games left and we’re in the playoffs? Like, let’s go. That’s pretty impressive.”
The Hurricanes and Stars conclude their back-to-back on Tuesday night. Carolina then returns home to play five consecutive games before finishing the season with a back-to-back at Nashville.
“Enough of the negative stuff,” Brind’Amour said after his team lost in overtime for the second straight game. “This group has worked their ass off all year. … We’re not done. We’ve got eight games left and we’re going to try and win them all.
“I feel like we’re on a mission here. Guys were upset about losing the game, which they should be, but we have bigger and better things we’re trying to accomplish here. I’m just really proud of this group all the way around.”
Carolina forced overtime when Jani Hakanpaa scored a goal with 4:14 left to tie it, 3-3. But Dallas won it 2:44 into overtime on Jamie Benn’s goal at the end of a 2-on-1 break with rookie star Jason Robertson.
It was the sixth win in seven games for Dallas (21-15-12, 54 points), which remained two points behind fourth-place Nashville in the battle for the final playoff spot.
Benn tied Mike Modano’s franchise record with his ninth overtime game-winner and also became the first player in franchise history to score overtime winners in back-to-back games. He also netted an overtime winner in Saturday’s 2-1 victory at Detroit.
“I think he loves these situations where he can put the team on his back and say, ‘Let’s go,'” Dallas coach Rick Bowness said of his captain. “And he’s been doing that a long time this season. It’s great to see. He’s giving us great leadership on the bench, in the room. It’s nice to see him get rewarded.”
Benn also had three assists in the contest to finish with the sixth four-point game of his career.
Dallas, which began the season by going just 2-12 in its first 14 overtime/shootout games, has now won three in a row after regulation.
“We’re finding ways to win when it matters,” Benn said. “We’re in a (playoff) battle as a group here. We’re playing good hockey and we just wanted to continue that tonight.”
Tuesday night’s contest with Carolina is the final regular-season home game for the Stars, who end the season with a difficult seven-game road trip beginning Thursday at defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay. The trip also includes a key stop at Nashville on Saturday as well as two more games with the Lightning, one at Florida and two at Chicago.
–Field Level Media