The Carolina Hurricanes have clinched the No. 1 seed in the NHL’s Central Division and never took the ice Friday.
The Dallas Stars’ 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday allowed the Canes to clinch. With 80 points in 54 games, the Hurricanes can’t be caught by the second-place Lightning (75 points), who have two regular-season games remaining, and will have home-ice advantage in the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs if the Canes can advance.
The Lightning, the 2020 Stanley Cup champion, will face the Florida Panthers in the opening round of the playoffs, but the Canes still must wait on its opponent as the fourth playoff position in the Central remains in play.
The Nashville Predators, who host the Canes in the final two regular-season games, have 60 points and a two-point lead over the fifth-place Stars. The Stars close out their regular season in a back-to-back road set against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday and Monday, and need help from the Canes.
The NHL has not officially announced the starting date for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Because of COVID-19 issues that caused game postponements in the North Division, the league extended the end of the regular season through May 19.
It’s possible the league could stagger the start of the playoffs. Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour favors beginning the playoffs within a few days after the completion of a divisional schedule.
“I think it’d be nice to have a couple days but let’s get rolling here,” Brind’Amour said on a Thursday media call. “Why are we delaying stuff? It always bothered me anyway when a round would finish and they would wait for the other ones. Let’s get going here.”
With home-ice advantage in the opening round, the Canes will begin the playoffs at PNC Arena. Given coronavirus restrictions and social-distancing requirements in seating, the Canes have had a reduced capacity of 4,987 fans at home.
Last year’s playoffs were held in the bubble cities of Toronto and Edmonton, with no fans in the seats, as the Lightning claimed the 2020 Cup by beating Dallas in the finals in Edmonton.