Also see our daily video countdown of Brind'Amour's Top 5 Moments as a Hurricane.
Of all the memories that remain from the Hurricanes’ 2006 run to the Stanley Cup, it’s easy to forget that it was almost over as soon as it began.
After the best regular season in franchise history, the Canes had claimed the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed heading into their first-round match-up with the Montreal Canadiens. With home-ice advantage at the RBC Center, where they had already won 31 games, they seemed to be in good position.
Until they weren’t.
Montreal surprisingly took the first two games in Raleigh, including a double-overtime defeat in Game 2, marking the Hurricanes’ first back-to-back home losses since November of that season. The Canes were then faced with the challenge of having to win four of the next five, including two on the road.
Thing seemed even bleaker when the Canes found themselves trailing by a goal with just over eight minutes remaining in Game 3. That was when Rod Brind’Amour scored to tie the game, setting the stage for Eric Staal’s overtime winner and four consecutive victories to close the series.
Five years later, many still see it as Brind’Amour’s biggest goal as a Hurricane.
“We needed a spark and he scored a huge, huge goal to get us to overtime and we kind of got the ball rolling from there,” said Staal. “We felt like we were playing well and kind of got into a groove after that win.”
“If Rod had not scored that, we would have probably been knocked out in the first round,” said General Manager Jim Rutherford. “When things looked a little shaky, he was a key guy as far as saying, ‘Let’s keep going, it’s OK.’”
Brind’Amour, never one to place as much weight on his own accomplishments as others might, doesn’t see that effort as the make-or-break goal of the postseason. That’s not because it wasn’t important, but because of the extreme confidence he felt at the time, regardless of the odds against his team.
“Even if we had lost Game 3, I honestly believe that we would have won four in a row,” he said.
Even though the Hurricanes did win every game of the series after Brind’Amour’s goal, doing so while down 3-0 is something different entirely. At that time, only two teams in NHL history had ever accomplished the feat, the most recent being the 1975 New York Islanders.
Still, seeing Brind’Amour’s conviction as he says it, one can’t help but believe him.
“People on the outside were writing us off, but we knew we were better than them,” he said. “We all felt that way, and that’s what was great. That’s belief, and you have to have that.
“There was this quiet confidence about that team all year. It was like, ‘We are better than you and we know it.’ We weren’t going to brag about it. We were going to show you, and it was going to come out.”
In leading the Hurricanes over Montreal and to two Game 7 victories against Buffalo and Edmonton, Brind’Amour showed plenty. He led the team with 12 goals in the postseason, with a series-clinching third-period tally in the final game with the Sabres another key moment in the Canes’ march to the championship. He would also score the game-winning goal in the team’s next game, as he literally and figuratively stole Game 1 of the finals from Edmonton by stripping the puck from goaltender Ty Conklin behind the net with 32 seconds left in a game they trailed 3-0 at the halfway point.
“It was one of the many times that he scored big goals in the playoffs that year, and that’s the on-ice leadership,” said Staal. “Those are key moments that help you win a championship.”
As confident as Brind’Amour and the Hurricanes were, their biggest test was saved for last. Having once led Edmonton by two games in the finals, they lost two straight with the Stanley Cup on standby, forcing a Game 7 with the momentum seemingly not on their side.
“When you have it right there and you have two chances at it and it’s taken away and taken away, there was more of the fear factor of not accomplishing what was meant to happen,” he said. “The good thing about it at that point was that we knew it was over and that it was this one game and that was it – we had to bring it all that night.”
Fortunately, they were able to do so at home.
“If ever there was a home ice or home field advantage that deserved some credit for winning, you’d have to give it to them,” he said. “They were so involved in every minute and every second. They did not give us a chance to let off the gas.”
Every season, a captain raises the Stanley Cup. It’s the ultimate moment for any hockey player, and their reactions reflect it. That being said, it would take something special for one to stand out among the rest. Even in looking at still photos of Brind’Amour’s unbridled joy as he finished the by-now famous slow stomp of the feet and lifted it for the first time, there’s still nothing quite like it.
He cites several reasons for that, with the fact that he won it on his third trip to the finals at the age of 35, in his 17th season and his 1,328th game, playing no small part. However, a leader to the end, he said that his thoughts at that time went beyond the gesture itself.
“Most of the time when you raise it, it’s about that guy or whatever,” he said. “When I raised it, people look at it and I think they feel like it was their cup and I represented them. It wasn’t ‘I,’ it’s ‘we.’”