RALEIGH, N.C. - The Carolina Hurricanes once again will have plenty of free time in April and beyond.
They've locked up a fifth straight year without making the playoffs—the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference.
That makes seven of eight seasons since winning the 2006 Stanley Cup that they've missed the post-season.
"We've felt it the last couple of years in a row here," veteran defenceman Jay Harrison said Wednesday after practice. "All too familiar, perhaps."
Now it's about playing the three remaining games, starting with the home finale Thursday night against Washington.
"It's never fun being out of the playoffs," captain Eric Staal said. "It's never fun not playing for anything. But you come to the rink, you be a pro and you work and you compete."
Harrison says there was "a sense of deflation" after a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday night took them out of the playoff chase once again.
In a television interview with the team's broadcaster during that game, owner Peter Karmanos Jr. said "I need the fans to be even more patient than they have been."
That hasn't been easy for a frustrated fan base after the Hurricanes slipped to 13th in the 16-team East with 79 points.
After a recent home loss to New Jersey, coach Kirk Muller said that while "a lot of guys" played with desperation, "we just didn't have everybody."
Staal echoed that sentiment Wednesday, saying that while he wished he could have done more this season, "I think there's a lot of guys that could have brought a little bit more."
Karmanos said in the interview that he likes the coaching staff, but Muller says he hasn't heard from anyone in management about his future. The third-year coach is 78-79-27 with Carolina.
"The biggest thing for me is, I want to be a part of this team that turns it around," Muller said. "I'm not happy that we didn't make the playoffs, but I want to be around to change this thing around."
There's even a question of whether the man who put this team together—longtime general manager Jim Rutherford—will be back, with speculation that the 65-year-old former goalie will retire. Rutherford has told The Associated Press he won't decide anything until after the season.
He built that Cup championship team eight years ago, but the Hurricanes' only post-season appearance since then came when they reached the 2009 Eastern Conference final.
Among teams in the current configuration of the East, only Columbus has not made it at least once since then—and the Blue Jackets are on the brink of clinching one of the two wild-card berths.
Only three current active players—Staal, goalie Cam Ward and forward Patrick Dwyer—have ever skated in a playoff game with the club. Staal and Ward are the only holdovers from that '06 championship team.
Losses have come in bunches for Carolina, which had 10 regulation losses in its first 15 games following the Olympic break and so far has had six losing streaks of three or more games.
"I think it was lost in the details, a couple of games where we let it get away from us," Harrison said, "and that's on us."
It didn't help that injuries left the goalie situation as a revolving door, and the team has been carrying three of them for the past month. Anton Khudobin, who began the season as Ward's backup, beat out the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner for most of the playing time recently.
And some of the key offensive players have had down years: Alexander Semin has 42 points in 64 games—or, two fewer points than he had in just 44 games last season.
Staal has just 19 goals—his fewest in an 82-game season since he had 11 as a rookie in 2003-04—and only one has come on the power play, which he said "isn't good enough.
"I know what's expected of me here," he said. "I've been here long enough to understand that, and obviously, I'm counted on offensively to produce. ... Just for whatever reason, goal-scoring-wise, the puck didn't seem to be hitting the back of the net as often as it has in the past."
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