May 18, 2023 - Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes lead a Sun Belt dominance of the NHL playoffs

The Carolina Hurricanes celebrate after eliminating the New Jersey Devils from the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Photo: Jaylynn Nash/Getty Images

The Carolina Hurricanes are leading a Sun Belt ascendancy in the Stanley Cup playoffs — a surprise for a league that has long been dominated by its original franchises from the North.

State of play: This is the first time in NHL history that all four conference finalists are based in Sun Belt states, with the Hurricanes taking on the Florida Panthers in the East and the Dallas Stars playing the Vegas Golden Knights in the West, Axios' Kendall Baker reports.

The big picture: Some have expressed worry that this could become a ratings nightmare for the NHL, which started the playoffs with three New York teams, Boston, Los Angeles and Toronto in the hunt.

  • But many Canes fans will tell you they're tired of a perceived media bias against Raleigh — a smaller market that has now beaten two New York-area franchises to start the playoffs in the Islanders and Devils.
  • Gov. Roy Cooper, a Canes fanatic, called out ESPN on Twitter for "grudgingly acknowledging" the playoff performances of the team, while extolling the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders.

The intrigue: Removed from the glare of the biggest TV markets, though, the Canes stand to get some national kudos for a winning turnaround initiated by owner Tom Dundon and coach Rod Brind'Amour.

  • The Hurricanes have now made five straight playoff appearances, and the performance has been rewarded by stellar attendance.
  • The Canes drew more total fans (800,566) this season than every team except Montreal, and PNC Arena is dubbed "The Loudest House in the NHL" for a reason.

Bottom line: The success of February's outdoor game at Carter-Finley felt like a high water mark for the Canes under Dundon's ownership.

  • This playoff run is pushing it even higher.

What's next: The Canes begin their series against the Florida Panthers at PNC Arena tonight at 8pm.

  • The Eastern Conference Final will be a family reunion of sorts. Canes captain Jordan Staal will face off against both of his brothers, Marc and former Canes captain Eric.

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