Jordan Martinook can easily recall his first Stanley Cup playoffs with the Carolina Hurricanes, and a tearful change in his postgame routine.
The Canes forward said he had a torn groin muscle in 2019 but doggedly stayed in the lineup for 10 playoff games. He fought the pain. He played on as best he could.
“It was the first time I was ever in the playoffs,” Martinook said Tuesday. “A couple of times I went home after games and I was in my closet and I was crying. My wife was rubbing my back and she was like, ‘Why do you keep doing this?’ I was like, ‘Why? I don’t know how many chances you get at this.’
“I’ll play through anything if they let me.”
That’s what the playoffs mean to those who seek the Stanley Cup, and any advantage gained in a grueling march to 16 playoff wins is important.
So it will be Thursday when the Metropolitan Division title is decided in Game 82 of the regular season.
The Hurricanes (51-21-9, 111 points), who lead the division by a point, will be in Sunrise, Florida, to face the Panthers, who want to nail down the first wild-card position in the Eastern Conference. Former Canes coach Paul Maurice and former Canes captain Eric Staal will be looking to lead the Panthers past the team that provided playoff success for both — Staal a member of Carolina’s 2006 Stanley Cup winners and Maurice coaching the Canes to the 2002 Stanley Cup final.
Win the game and the Hurricanes win the division. Lose the game and the New Jersey Devils (51-22-8, 110 points), second in the Metro, would finish first with a win in their road game against the Washington Capitals or an overtime loss to the Caps.
Under the NHL tiebreaker format, if the Canes and Devils have the same amount of points, the Devils would break the tie with more regulation wins, 39 to 38.
The Canes, if they win the Metro, and Panthers could be playing again early next week in the opening round of the playoffs.
“No matter who we play in the first round it’s going to be a tough opponent,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Tuesday, calling the Panthers the “hottest team in the league.”
Should the Canes finish second, they will be hosting the New York Rangers, third in the Metro, in Game 1 at PNC Arena and will hold the home-ice advantage.
“I don’t know if it matters that much but as we saw last year, we went through the first round just because we won all the home games,” goalie Antti Raanta said Tuesday. “But it’s nice to start at home and get the crowd’s support and get us going.”
Carolina was 4-0 at PNC Arena in the opening-round series win against the Boston Bruins, winning Game 7 behind Raanta. The Canes again failed to win a road game in the next round against the Rangers, then dropped Game 7 at home.
Raanta was in net Tuesday as the Hurricanes maintained their one-point Metro lead with a 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings in the last home game of the regular season. Martinook scored the game-winning goal in the first period, taking a pass from defenseman Brady Skjei, settling the puck and ripping it in.
It wasn’t a stress-free game for the Canes — the Wings scored in the second period to pull within 2-1. But Brent Burns’ second-period goal eased the tension in the building and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who had a goal and assist, scored an empty-netter late in regulation.
Martinook, 30, now has 13 goals, and his 34 points are a career high. The versatile, rough-and-tumble forward has been nominated by the Carolina chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) for the 2023 Masterton Trophy, an annual award that recognizes a player’s perseverance and dedication to hockey.
“It’s a big honor,” Martinook said Tuesday. “To see the guys who have won it, the guys who get nominated every year, it’s character guys. I feel blessed to be recognized for that. It’s cool.
“I don’t think I made it to the NHL very easy compared to a lot of guys. I had to play in the minors and work my way up and make the team out of camp. I pride myself on my work ethic, and I think perseverance and work ethic go hand in hand.”
The Metro tiebreaker
There is a scenario in which the Canes and Devils could finish with the same amount of points, if Carolina loses in overtime or a shootout to Florida, and New Jersey wins in an manner against Washington. That would give both clubs 112 points.
Should the Canes and Devils finish with the same amount of points, the NHL tiebreaker procedure has the team with the most regulation wins finishing ahead.
The Hurricanes go into Thursday’s game at Florida with 38 regulation wins and the Devils 39, so in any scenario where the tiebreaker is needed, the Devils will have at least one more regulation win than the Canes.