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Hurricanes Clinch Top Seed in Central Division; Latest 2021 NHL Playoff Picture

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorMay 8, 2021

Carolina Hurricanes right wing Sebastian Aho (20) faces off during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, April 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Gerry Broome/Associated Press

The Carolina Hurricanes clinched the Central Division following the Dallas Stars' 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night. 

While Dallas and the Nashville Predators continue battling for the fourth and final playoff seed in the division, the Canes locked up their first division title since 2005-06—a year that ended with Carolina lifting the Stanley Cup. 

Here's how the NHL playoff pictures looks with less than a week remaining in the regular season:

  

Central Division

*Carolina Hurricanes: 80 points (36-10-8)

*Tampa Bay Lightning: 75 points (36-15-3)

*Florida Panthers: 75 points (35-14-5)

Nashville Predators: 60 points (29-23-2)

Dallas Stars: 58 points (22-18-14)

      

West Division

*Vegas Golden Knights: 76 points (37-13-2)

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*Colorado Avalanche: 72 points (34-13-4)

*Minnesota Wild: 71 points (33-14-5)

St. Louis Blues: 56 points (24-19-8)

Arizona Coyotes: 50 points (22-26-6)

North Division

*Toronto Maple Leafs: 74 points (34-13-6)

*Edmonton Oilers: 66 points (32-18-2)

*Winnipeg Jets: 59 points (28-21-3)

Montreal Canadiens: 57 points (24-20-9)

     

East Division

*Pittsburgh Penguins: 75 points (36-16-3)

*Washington Capitals: 73 points (34-15-5)

*Boston Bruins: 71 points (32-14-7)

*New York Islanders: 68 points (31-17-6)

        

On Friday the Canes did one better—and now the team can target a return to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2005-06, when they beat the Edmonton Oilers for the trophy in seven games.

This year's team has that potential. It has a balanced scoring attack paced by Sebastian Aho, whose 24 goals and 57 points lead the team. Vincent Trocheck is posting nearly a point per game with 17 goals and 26 assists through 45 matchups.

Five players have 15 or more goals, and defender Dougie Hamilton's 32 helpers are second only to Aho on the roster.

The blueliners have been excellent this year, with Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin helping Hamilton. In net, the combination of James Reimer and Alex Nedeljkovic has shined, with the latter netminder notably posting a sterling .932 save percentage and 1.89 GAA.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the NHL changing its playoff structure, but the concept isn't that much different than the norm. The top four teams in each division will have a playoff to determine the division champion, and then those winners will meet in the league semifinals.

Emerging from the Central will be a tall order for Carolina considering that the Panthers and Lightning have done so well this season. It can only hope to win the division and avoid either of those two in the first round.

However, the Hurricanes are a talented bunch that can lay claim to being the Eastern Conference's best team. They can easily be the East's representative in the Stanley Cup Final.

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