Hurricanes Respond to Francis’ Belief in Them

The Carolina Hurricanes have responded to the belief their executive vice president and general manager, Ron Francis, has placed in them. Friday night they welcomed the New Jersey Devils to their home ice and emerged victorious, 3-1. This came on the heels of Thursday night’s “must win” game against the Philadelphia Flyers, which the Hurricanes won, 4-1. In both games they looked energized and ready, playing like a team with a renewed sense of mission.

Francis Believes

The passing of the trade deadline gave Francis an opportunity to speak with the media. He fielded several questions about why he didn’t do anything during the days leading up to the deadline. In what has become characteristic of Francis, he explained that the players available were too costly to make sense for the Hurricanes, given their current situation and place in the standings. They were also in the middle of a five-game losing streak at that time.

Ron Francis (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

Asked if he thought that the Hurricanes, as currently constructed, could make the playoffs, Francis said yes. He also said he hoped the guys in the locker room could turn things around. His words could be construed to mean a variety of things — some positive and some negative. The “read between the lines” message could very well be that the players are on their own, and don’t expect management to help. This certainly is the case given that Francis did nothing to bolster the Hurricanes’ chances through trades.

But, taken at face value, Francis’ words communicate to the players that, ‘management has faith in you.’ Maybe Francis truly believes that his team can make the playoffs, or maybe he was just saying it for the media. Either way, he said that he believes and maybe the players are starting to believe, too.

Justin Williams Believes

If anyone on the Hurricanes roster believes, it’s forward Justin Williams. He has been a fiery competitor on the roster ever since the he re-joined the Hurricanes in the offseason. Williams was part of the 2006 Hurricanes team that won the Stanley Cup. He was a fiery leader of the Washington Capitals that won more games than any other team the past two seasons.

Justin Williams Carolina Hurricanes
Justin Williams, Carolina Hurricanes, Mar. 1, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Francis brought his fire to Raleigh and it was clear early that Williams has part of what’s been lacking on the roster. He has a belief, a determination and an attitude that doesn’t give up. After his initial press conference as a Hurricane for the second time, it was evident that Williams would be the next captain of the Hurricanes. Obvious to everyone except head coach, Bill Peters, who eventually named Justin Faulk and Jordan Staal co-captains.

Even without the ‘C’ Williams is a leader, vocalizing direction and encouragement to his teammates. Apparently, he believed Francis, because he went out and helped stem the tide of what had become a six-game losing streak and led the Hurricanes to victory over the Flyers. He scored the first goal of the game and ended up with another goal and an assist on the night.

Williams added another goal Friday night against the Devils, an empty netter that sealed the win for the Hurricanes. If there is one player that can motivate these young guns to believe that they can make the playoffs, it’s Williams. He’s been there and knows what it takes. He has the “it” factor to play hard and believe that goals can be attained. In this case, it is the goal of making the playoffs this season.

After the win against the Devils, Cam Ward met with the media and said of Williams,

I love the guy. He’s so competitive and he wants us to rally with him. He’s the veteran, he’s the leader, he’s the guy that’s been there and done that his whole career and knows what it takes. He stepped up huge in Philadelphia, getting us on the board early. And to get that empty-netter, I mean his work ethic is second to none and these kids can really learn a lot by watching him play.

Speaking of Ward, he played in back-to-back game for the first time this season. He made 21 saves on 22 shots faced against the Flyers, and 25 of 26 against the Devils. It looks like he might just believe Francis, too.

Jordan Staal, one of the Hurricanes’ co-captains, returned to the ice Thursday night against the Flyers. He had been out due to a family tragedy. His presence in the middle is something that cannot be quantified, and the team looked buoyed by his return. As a unit, with Staal and Faulk as co-captains, Williams leading from the heart, and Ward playing his best, perhaps it’s time to join Francis and believe that this group of Hurricanes can make the playoffs.