The dream of the Carolina Hurricanes making it back to the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs is now a reality. And, while over the past 10 years the team has had ample opportunity to play some wonderful spring golf, they will not be making tee times just yet; they have some playoff hockey to play.
In the Hurricanes’ home venue, PNC Arena that was filled with 17,600 strong Thursday night, the team played like they had to in order to make the playoffs. Even down 0-1 to the New Jersey Devils in the first period did not cause the team to lose focus.
This is a different group of Hurricanes than we have known even in the past four seasons. They don’t easily give up. Warren Foegele hasn’t been a Hurricane long enough to know that they usually fold in tight season-end situations. He brazenly tied the score and the team’s fate was sealed. After the game Foegele said this about going to the playoffs:
It’s going to be exciting. I don’t really have words to think of what it’s going to be like…we believe in this group and we’re going to take it day by day.
With the game tied, the tenor in the building changed from nervousness to excitement. The “Caniacs” knew this was it, the season that was going to be different. Their team was going to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Justin Faulk has been a co-captain for the Hurricanes and knows something about leadership. It was fitting that he put the team ahead 2-1. After the game, Faulk said that reaching the playoffs is good, but it’s not the end:
We’re excited, obviously, we’re happy but we’re not done. That’s not enough just to get in the playoffs. We know that. That’s been our mindset the whole year. It’s not just to get in and call it good. We know we’ve got a lot more business to take care of.
After a couple of seasons of frustration and trade rumors, it was nice that Faulk got the game-winner against the Devils. He has been an NHL All-Star and not long ago was touted as one of the league’s best defensemen.
At age 27, Faulk is still relatively young but already has a resume others 10 years older would love to call their own. Finally, he will have the chance to add to that resume in postseason play.
There is much more to be written about this season: how it was over in December for the Hurricanes; how bringing in Nino Niederreiter was the defining transaction that rescued the second part of the season; and how a first-year head coach is getting his team to the playoffs.
Of course, there is the “storm surge,” a harmless celebration that excited the home fans and incited Don Cherry and Brian Burke to protest. The “Bunch of Jerks”, as Cherry glossed the Hurricanes, will be front and center for the playoffs. Maybe Cherry and Burke will watch a game together.
Team captain Justin Williams may be the biggest difference for the Hurricanes. More will be written about his impact later, but there is little question that sans Williams in the captain’s sweater, the team would be teeing it up next week instead of getting geared up for the playoffs.
For now, it is important to note that the drought is over. The Hurricanes have done what it takes to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The days of Kirk Muller and Bill Peters are gone. Head coach Rod Brind’Amour has done in his rookie season what Muller and Peters failed to do.
Paul Maurice got the team to the playoffs in 2008-09, but that was it, the drought started then and only Brind’Amour has been able to get the team to dig deep enough to find the sparkling pools of water that represent making postseason, drought over.
The Hurricanes don’t yet know who they will be facing in the first round. There is a chance they could move up to the third spot in the Metropolitan Division if they beat the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins lose to the New York Rangers this Saturday.
Of course, the Hurricanes could drop to the second wild-card position with a loss to the Flyers, and if the Columbus Blue Jackets win Friday against the Rangers and Saturday against the Ottawa Senators. But, the bottom line is that the Hurricanes are in the playoffs regardless of seeding and there is no telling what they have left or how far they will go. The golf can wait.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.