Hurricanes, Penguins clinch playoff spots

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For the first time since 2009, the Carolina Hurricanes earned a berth in the postseason. The Pittsburgh Penguins were the team that bounced them from that playoff run (en route to a Stanley Cup), and they punched their own ticket to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, extending a run that’s lasted longer than Carolina’s drought.

(The Penguins have now made it 13 consecutive seasons, which the team notes is the longest active streak in the NHL.)

Penguins stay in third

After losing to the strangely hot Red Wings 4-1 on Tuesday, the Penguins returned the favor against Detroit, as Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby both enjoyed three-point games in helping Pittsburgh win 4-1 on Thursday. Evgeni Malkin generated an assist and played 18:50 of that win in his return, so that’s another big plus for the Pens.

This win leaves Pittsburgh with 99 points and one game remaining, placing them in third place in the Metropolitan Division.

While the Capitals clinched the top spot in the Metro on Thursday, the Islanders sit at second via 101 points with one game remaining, so Pittsburgh could still grab a round of home-ice if they’re lucky.

Hurricanes end the drought

For far too long, the Hurricanes have only used an “X” to mark through a season as ending in Game 82. Or maybe they used an X to denote a strike while bowling during an extended offseason without the playoffs?

Anyway, you can’t blame the team for being excited to clinch their spot, even if we didn’t get to enjoy a clinching surge.

Most importantly, the question is no longer if the Hurricanes will make it to the postseason; instead, it’s now a question of where they’ll rank (and thus who they’ll play against). They’re currently the first wild-card team with 97 points and one game remaining. Columbus is at 94 points, but they have two games left, so it’s possible for the Blue Jackets to push Carolina down to the second wild-card spot. (Montreal can’t finish ahead of Carolina, however.)

There’s also a chance that the Hurricanes might jump into Pittsburgh’s third seed, depending upon how points and/or tiebreakers play out.

Seeding is certainly a relevant matter, but the Hurricanes must be tickled by the thought of such a luxury.

Honestly, with the way things sometimes looked grim for the Penguins this season, maybe they feel that way too — even if there’s likely not a lot of novelty to making the playoffs.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.