Ward: Hurricanes can’t settle for anything less than playoffs next season

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) The Carolina Hurricanes have begun yet another early offseason.

The owners of the NHL’s longest active playoff drought – now at eight years and counting – cleaned out their lockers Monday with a belief that they’re getting closer to finally getting back to the postseason.

“Certainly I would think that anything but the playoffs next year, we wouldn’t be satisfied with,” veteran goalie Cam Ward said. “If we could have put it together for a whole season, we wouldn’t be talking to you today – we’d be getting ready for Round 1” of the playoffs.

When the Hurricanes look back on this season, they’ll remember several high points – both on and off the ice – but also a string of missed opportunities that prevented them from reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Carolina finished with 87 points, eight points behind Toronto in the chase for the final wild-card berth. That total was buoyed by a late string in which the Hurricanes earned at least one point in a franchise-record 13 straight games, going 9-0-4 in that stretch to make a last-gasp push up the standings.

That’s their most points since the 2010-11 team had 91 and fell two points shy of the postseason.

But it still wasn’t enough. Not in a division that had three of the top four teams in the league. – Washington (118 points), Pittsburgh (111) and Columbus (108).

Some things to remember about the Hurricanes’ 2016-17 season:

WHY ARE THEY OUT? The Hurricanes will lament an untimely five-game losing streak in late January in which they were outscored 23-5 to drop from the cusp of playoff contention. Another 0-4-1 stretch in late February didn’t help, and before their they were in last place in the East. They also struggled to beat some of the league’s weaker teams, going just 2-4-2 against the four worst teams in the Western Conference – including an ugly 0-1-1 finish against a Colorado team that earned a league-fewest 48 points. “We don’t necessarily have to be in first place, but you can’t be hanging around the bottom for too long and expect to make a push and get back into it,” defenseman Justin Faulk said.

LEADERSHIP: The Hurricanes have chosen not to select a captain ever since they traded Eric Staal in February 2016, instead relying on a rotation of alternate captains. In hindsight, maybe one of the league’s youngest teams could have used a single voice of leadership in the dressing room.

BRIGHT SPOTS: There were some bright spots, though: 24-year-old forward Jeff Skinner scored a career-high 37 goals and matched a career best with 63 points while further establishing himself as the team’s most dangerous offensive player. Sebastian Aho was third among league rookies with 24 goals. And a young defensive core led by Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce took some steps forward in their second seasons in the league. “It’s funny how these young kids in this organization, they’re so young but they’re so mature for their age,” Ward said.

HEART-WARMERS: Two lasting memories had little to do with wins and losses. Equipment manager Jorge Alves, pressed into duty as the emergency goalie when Eddie Lack became ill, wound up living a dream by playing the final 7.6 seconds of a game at Tampa Bay in January. And forward Bryan Bickell, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with Chicago who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, fought his way back to the NHL in the final week before deciding to retire at season’s end. His career ended with a goal in the shootout Sunday night at Philadelphia.

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.