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Stanley Cup finalists Oilers and Hurricanes could both fail to make the playoffs this season
Jim Matheson, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Tuesday, February 06, 2007

What are the odds that the two teams who grind it out all the way to the Stanley Cup final one spring are both reduced to watching the playoffs in some sports bar the next spring?

Worse than a Zamboni driver falling asleep at the wheel and plowing into the end boards as he cleans the ice between periods. That may have happened.

The other never has.

That's going back 80 years, back to 1926-27 when the NHL gained control of the Stanley Cup championship. Every now and then the defending champions turn into saps and miss, or the teams that came close in the finals do -- actually more often because they caught lightning in a bottle to even get that far -- but not at the same time. Not ever.

We bring this to your attention because the reigning Carolina Hurricanes are now looking in the rear-view mirror, clinging to the last playoff spot in the East, just one point ahead of the hard-charging Toronto Maple Leafs, while the Edmonton Oilers sit ninth in the West, six points out of the playoff picture.

This is a scary thought for both teams which went to a heart-stopping Game 7 in the final on June 19, 2006.

Neither wants to be part of history.

"Not that kind," laughed Carolina winger Ray Whitney. "Last year, yeah, with the teams meeting in the finals, but not this.

"We're not panicking," Whitney continued, "but we realize this is serious. We've got teams within striking distance. We're in eighth place. We know it. We also know Jersey didn't make it the year after they won (1994)."

Carolina GM Jim Rutherford is clearly distressed as he tries to digest his club's four-game losing streak where they've been outscored 19-7 and their seven game run which has seen them only win once. He's not much different from Oiler GM Kevin Lowe. Both guys are taken aback by the ups and downs of their teams. The Oilers have beaten the Hurricanes in their only meeting, Detroit two of three, San Jose two out of three and they're 1-1 and an OT loss with Anaheim -- the three clubs they played before the finals and three teams second, third and fourth in the West right now. But they're mystifyingly under .500 against the teams in their own division, the Northwest.

The Hurricanes have the most to lose, obviously. The Oilers have a full building every night, win or lose, selling tickets to hockey games in North Carolina is geared to success

"Something's just not right," Rutherford told the Raleigh News Observer. "We show signs of being a good team and signs of being a bad team. Our inconsistency is very frustrating and disappointing."

"The inconsistency isn't game to game, it's within games," said Whitney, Carolina's leading scorer with 59 points. "We're playing well, then all of a sudden we give up some horrible chances."

Since the Original Six expanded to the Dirty Dozen in 1967-68, it's only happened twice that a defending champion failed to make it back the year after dancing with the Stanley Cup. It happened to the '69-70 Canadiens after they took out the St. Louis Blues four straight the previous spring, and in '95-96 with the New Jersey Devils, who had won their first of three Cups in the 48-game lockout season. They missed out by two points, with Tampa Bay sneaking in.

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