In the end, it was fitting that the Hurricanes didn’t win that series in five or six games. That just isn’t their style.
Of course it went to Game 7, just as each of their previous three series had done dating back to 2006. Of course it ended in the most dramatic way possible, with an overtime goal from the match-up’s most polarizing figure.
It’s almost enough to make you think these kinds of things are commonplace in sports, but they aren’t. The Canes are now only the second team in NHL history to win consecutive Game 7’s on the road in the same year, following Minnesota in 2003. Somehow, those moments have become commonplace for this team, which continues to come through in the most crucial moments of the most crucial games.
“I think it’s in part how the team is built,” said Coach Paul Maurice. “We are in a position with our team that we play a game that means you’re going to be in a lot of tight games. We’re used to that. We resisted the urge most importantly to try to do something extra-special to win that game, and that’s the kiss of death.”
They will be the first ones to say that it’s all about the players, but the way the coaching staff and management have put faith in the right people at the right time has been a theme of these playoffs. One didn’t necessarily expect Jussi Jokinen to be on the ice in key end-game situations, but he has delivered. Ditto Scott Walker, who was put on a line with Eric Staal for the first time prior to Game 7, distractions of the previous week and all, and scored the goal to send Carolina to the Conference Finals. The correct buttons have been pushed.
“It’s not like we’re trying to find the final answer in our lines,” said Maurice. “We’re trying to put the people that are going in the best position on any given night.”
Those who doubted Walker’s character after the incident from Game 5 need only watch his emotional walk-off interview from last night and read Mike’s blog from earlier today to see what the man is all about. For a 35-year-old veteran of 14 NHL seasons to finally get a postseason run like this is pretty special. Now, he’ll be defined by his Game 7 heroics more than anything else.
“If I scored that goal, I don’t think I’d ever want to sleep again because it would be a minute that I didn’t get to sit and bask in that glory,” said Maurice. “Good for him, and I hope he’s enjoying every minute of it.”
And then there’s Cam Ward, who is now 4-0 in Game 7’s in his young career. That’s an amazing accomplishment for a player as young as he is. As steady as he’s been and as much as everyone expects it now, it’s important to take a step back and truly appreciate what he’s done.
“We just are at a point now where we so completely take him for granted that it’s fantastic,” said Maurice with a wide smile. “We don’t even think about him. Just go in the net and stop all the pucks.
“There has been years for Jersey where the only concern was what games wasn’t Marty going to play,” added Maurice, speaking of Devils’ goaltender Martin Brodeur. “Seven times a year they would have to find a game that Marty wasn’t going to play. For me with Cam, that’s what this guy will mean for this franchise for as long as he wants to play. He’s that good.”
The Canes get a few days off before heading to Pittsburgh for Monday’s Game 1. We’ll have more details and analysis on that in the coming days, but Maurice’s initial take should whet the appetite for what promises to be a hugely entertaining set of games.
“[The most recent] game that Pittsburgh played here was still one of the fastest games of the year,” he said. “From the bench it was breathtaking, the speed on the ice. It wasn’t poorly played hockey and it was well-managed pucks, but it was exciting and it was fast. I think this is going to be a very, very quick series.”