The applause is coming now, even on shifts when Eric Staal doesn't score. The way the Carolina Hurricanes played Friday, after the way they and their captain have played for three weeks now, there's plenty to get excited about.

The killer, unfortunately, is that this has all come too late to save Carolina's season, at least as far as the playoffs are concerned. The Hurricanes have effectively been eliminated from postseason contention since the day before Kirk Muller won his first game as coach of the Hurricanes in December.

Still, when the Hurricanes play the way they did in Friday's 3-0 win over the Washington Capitals, there's no question their fans are seeing what they come hoping to see, from the Hurricanes and their captain. If only it hadn't taken so long to get to this point.