The Carolina Hurricanes ended the longest active drought in the NHL by punching their ticket to the playoffs in their 81st game of the season.
Before the Hurricanes can compete in the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 campaign, they'll have to play their regular-season finale on Saturday night against the host Philadelphia Flyers.
"It's definitely fulfilling. It's always fulfilling when you put everything you have into something, and you reach the first goal you've wanted to get to," said captain Justin Williams, who played on Carolina's 2006 Stanley Cup-winning team.
"It's been a lot time coming for this area and a lot of guys on this team. We're happy to be invited to the dance this year."
The Hurricanes, however, are uncertain as to where they will stand when the music begins to play in the postseason.
While Carolina resides in the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, it could elevate to a third-place finish in the Metropolitan Division should it complete a season sweep of Philadelphia, and the Pittsburgh Penguins fall to the New York Rangers in regulation on Saturday. That scenario would set up a first-round series against the New York Islanders.
Williams set up Nino Niederreiter's third-period goal in Thursday's 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils. The 37-year-old Williams has five points (one goal, four assists) in his last six games, including an assist in a 5-2 win on March 30 over Philadelphia, with which he spent parts of his first four NHL seasons.
Defenseman Justin Faulk, who is the Hurricanes' longest-tenured player, scored in that game against the Flyers before tallying again in the second period on Thursday.
"It's exciting, obviously. Everyone can see it, the emotion of the group in here right now. There's a bit of a vibe going on," the 27-year-old Faulk said. "It's great. We're not happy yet, right? Well, obviously we're happy, but we're not done. It's not enough just to get into the playoffs. We know that. That's been our mindset the whole year."
The Flyers, conversely, are done -- and they are playing like it.
Philadelphia enjoyed a blistering 18-4-2 run to work itself into the playoff picture, but the March 30 setback to Carolina began a four-game losing skid in which it has been outscored 21-7.
The Flyers were on the receiving end of Thursday's 7-3 shellacking by the Blues in St. Louis, allowing five first-period goals for the first time since March 15, 1997.
"You don't want to get embarrassed," forward James van Riemsdyk said after collecting a goal and an assist against the Blues. "But everybody looks bad on our team when we lose like that and give up seven goals."
Oskar Lindblom scored in his second straight game and third in his last four, beginning with a power-play tally in the third period against the Hurricanes. The 22-year-old Swede recorded 12 of his 16 goals in his last 35 contests.
Captain Claude Giroux, who leads Philadelphia in assists (61) and points (83), has 17 assists and 22 points in the past 20 games. The 31-year-old set up two goals in a 5-3 setback to Carolina on Jan. 3 before scoring in the most recent meeting with the Hurricanes.
--Field Level Media
Playoff-bound Hurricanes now focus on Flyers