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NHL: Playoff run validates Hurricanes’ season

Associated Press
RALEIGH ó The Carolina Hurricanes are preparing for another comeback after being unable to rally in the Eastern Conference finals.
Two days after their magical playoff run ended, the Hurricanes cleaned out their lockers on Thursday and management conducted exit interviews ó with the focus on a repeat performance next season.
“There’s no reason why we can’t be in the same situation next year with the same team,” goalie Cam Ward said. “Everybody’s gotten a taste of what it takes, for the guys that haven’t been in the playoffs. For the guys that were in the playoffs, it was just another taste of how much enjoyment we had (in 2006).
“Falling short is never fun,” he added. “A lot of guys are going to be working extremely hard this summer to do whatever it takes to get ourselves ready for another great run next year.”
And what a run it was this year for Carolina.
The Hurricanes seemed destined to miss the playoffs for a third straight year, then streaked through March and April to claim the East’s No. 6 seed.
“This kind of blew my mind, really,” defenseman Tim Gleason said. “I never thought we’d go this far.”
Carolina has some decisions to make to get back to this point.
A handful of key players aren’t yet signed for next season, prompting general manager Jim Rutherford to say of possible offseason moves that “nothing, probably other than Eric Staal and Cam Ward, are cast in stone at this point.”
But the franchise’s most important free agent might be coach Paul Maurice.
The former Carolina and Toronto coach returned to Raleigh in December as a favor to Rutherford, whom he considers his best friend. Maurice guided it to a club-record-tying nine straight victories, a team-record 12 straight at home and made them the NHL’s hottest team down the stretch.
Under his watch, the Hurricanes became the second team in NHL history to win consecutive Game 7s on the road in the same playoff year. They were the only team to upset two division champions in the playoffs, knocking off No. 3 seed New Jersey and top-seeded Boston before they were eliminated by the surging Penguins.
Rutherford said he’s piecing together a new contract for Maurice, and plans to talk to owner Peter Karmanos Jr. next week in Detroit to “hopefully get through this process of what people are expecting the end result’s going to be.”
“People are kind of taking (Maurice’s new deal) for granted, as I would expect based on the job and where the team ended up,” he said.

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