Part III in the recap of the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes’ season & run to the Conference Finals. But will there be a Part IV?
In the Hurricanes first postseason game in a decade they fared OK, but played like a team that was still in the regular season, while a far more experienced Washington squad played “playoff hockey.” Andrei Svechnikov, being a rookie, didn’t know they were suppose to lose, and put up two goals to make the Canes look good. Game 2 ended tighter, but novice play in OT put them down 0-2 in the series. Another rookie, Warren Foegele, started to make a name for himself here (besides being the thief that stole all the E’s out of Petr Mrazek’s name).
Game 3 was in Raleigh, the first game in a generation of new fans. So much time had gone by since their last playoff push, many weren’t even living here at the time, many still weren’t old enough to remember it. A new good luck charm would be found riding in a little red wagon. But the legend of sheer sonic volume was pervasive enough that a nervous crowd was ready to put their will behind their team and not go down without at fight.
Did I say fight? Because that’s what we got in the first period, when alledgedly Svechnikov asked Alex Ovechkin to a donnybrook that ended very very quickly. The Hurricanes watched as their future star get K.O.’d and hit the ice hard before being helped off the ice and off to the hospital to be checked out.
This is the turning point, where the team pulled itself together and found their playoff gear. They battled back and won! Noise levels were dangerously loud inside the arena where fans were joyous to just not get swept. (Our expectations are still low from years of disappointment.) But something funny happened, and two nights later they won again; this time with a resounding victory, and hope started to rear its ugly head where people thought there might be a chance of an upset!
Back and forth, the Hurricanes and Capitals battled, evening the series until Game 7 came about. Both side had lost key players. Nasty words were said both on the ice and in the media and sometimes to the refs. The final game would require the Canes to buck the trend in the series, where only the home team won. The other playoff series had already finished and this one the last one to play; all of the high-ranked, front-running teams had been eliminated with the eyes fell on the Canes to finish the last giant. Eventually Brind’amour’s (can you have two apostrophes in the same word?) religious-like physical conditioning of this team, along with their tenaciousness proved it was worth its mettle into a second overtime after finally wearing the Champs out. Also, the Canes have Mr. Game 7. While the playoff are known for sparking rivalries, this year is sparked camaraderie:
Even Penguins fans hopped onto our message boards to thank us for doing their dirty work. Not that they had been busy for the past week.
Bruised but victorious, the Hurricanes hoped a plane to Brooklyn, where a well-rested Islanders team waited. A team that handed them their first loss of the season, and three in four possible games. This was a damn-dangerous Islanders team that, at the beginning of the season, was considered to be nothing more than dead weight, much like the Hurricanes. But having spent much of the year leading the Metro and quickly handing the defeat to the juggernaut Pittsburgh crew, the Hurricanes and their fanbase expected a tough, tight trap team. Throughout much of Games 1 and 2, the Canes practically stole their victories on a “Shit Bounce,” and “48 seconds of really good hockey.”
What really won those games, and eventually the series, was solid defense that most of the hockey world hadn’t paid attention to until just now. How could a bluntly-honest rookie head coach out dual a veteran, Cup-winning master of the game? Because of players no one paid attention to like Jaccob Slavin, and Trevor Van Riemsdyk, or stalwarts Jordan Staal, Justin Faulk and ex-Islander Calvin deHaan.
The resilient Canes would continue to suffer injuries, even to Petr Mrazek, the man who bet on himself at the start of the season. While Caniac gasped at his frustrating injury, Curtis ‘Big Mac’ McElhinney step in flawlessly as he had all season, and the Hurricanes continued to press with no worries of who was playing behind them.
Game 3 was much closer than the 5-2 score showed, again with the Islanders playing a very structured and stifling brand of hockey; the Hurricanes just choked down harder and broke free on some highlight reel goals. The crowd went hog wild!
If Carolina fans were nervous about Game 3, they were #shitlessnervous about Game 4. New York was too good of a team, too proud of a team not to fight back hard with their backs against the wall, but the Hurricanes hadn’t lost a game yet on home ice. Both teams hit the ice hard and fast, with leveling hits dangerous scoring chances. It was surprisingly only 1-1 after the first period. Come the second period, the Hurricanes found their scoring touch and turned the tables of offense. By the end of Game 4, the Hurricanes had soundly swept the Islanders, who still got further in the playoffs than John Tavares. The game winning-goal was scored by Greg McKegg, who was Ron Francis’ last move as GM, and who now has more 2019 playoff goals than Sidney Crosby.
Out of breath from cheering at 125 decibels, Caniacs could finally take a sigh of relief. And, as Justin Williams had promised, the Hurricanes were finally ‘Relevant’ again. It just took a little longer than expected.
But as Rod Brind’amour told the press, “The goal was never to [just] make the playoffs. Who cares?” The postseason is only halfway over, but the Hurricanes are looking more formidable than ever (with all apologies to the Blue Jackets for knocking off the Lightning in a Round 1 sweep). How far they go will all be up to Rod, this team, and the irreverent cascade of moves made by an impatient, new owner.
A lot of people will tell you that the NHL is a copycat league; everyone follows the tactics and moves of the winner. That being said, should the Hurricanes win it all, I would be more surprised to see other teams look at what they have and say, “Maybe we are paying our coach too much money. Also, power plays are really overrated.” Hey, Toronto is already giving Babcock the side eye! ■
Jim Howard is a Carolina Hurricanes fan and reformed baseball card collector who is trying to keep the hockey collection from becoming overwhelming. And while he wishes he could give Crosby the business with his mitt, he is in fact NOT the goalie for the Red Wings.