Hurricanes snuffed out of playoff race

RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - The Carolina Hurricanes were eliminated from NHL playoff contention on Saturday after suffering a 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Hurricanes needed to win to snatch the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot from the New York Rangers, who defeated the New Jersey Devils 5-2 earlier in the day.

"Everyone wanted this and every one of us wanted to be in the playoffs," Hurricanes captain Eric Staal told reporters.

"It's not a nice feeling in the stomach. We worked our butts off all year to have this opportunity at home and we didn't get the job done."

The Lighting built a 3-0 lead in the first period on goals by Dominic Moore, Vincent Lecavalier and Steve Stamkos, and stretched it to 4-0 with a goal from Brett Clark midway through the second.

Cory Stillman and Chad Larose cut the Tampa Bay lead in half with 11:27 remaining, but Lightning goaltender Mike Smith kept Carolina at bay for the remainder despite the Hurricanes out-shooting the Lighting 17-7 in the third period.

"It was key for me to get in good position, but our defense has been solid all year and tonight again," said Smith. "They blocked a lot of shots and were excellent on the penalty kill."

Simon Gagne and Martin St. Louis scored empty net goals in the final three minutes for Tampa Bay, who will be the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.

"It was a great test for us because it was going to be a playoff game," said St. Louis. "For them (Carolina), it was a do-or-die situation. I thought it was good preparation for what's coming."

(Reporting by Mike Mouat in Windsor, Ontario; Editing by Alastair Himmer)