There's nothing quite like the emotion, intensity and atmosphere of playoff sports.
The Carolina Panthers know firsthand what playoff football is all about, and on Tuesday, eight members of the Panthers, plus their owner, David Tepper, experienced playoff hockey as fans among the 18,768 in attendance at PNC Arena for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final between the Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins.
A few Panthers, like linebacker Luke Kuechly - who roomed with former Hurricanes draft pick Brian Dumoulin at Boston College - and running back Christian McCaffrey, were experiencing their first Hurricanes game. Others, like wide receiver DJ Moore, linebacker Shaq Thompson and defensive tackle Kawann Short, were attending their first ever hockey game.
The atmosphere in the building, as it has been throughout the postseason, was electric. Rally towels waved. Decibel levels pushed the mid-110s. The crowd hooted and hollered and roared in the hopes that the Canes would secure their first win of the series.
And the Panthers were loving every moment of it.
"You can't beat playing a home playoff game. As a player, it's what you live for," Kuechly said. "When your fans are as into as these guys are, it's awesome. The fans are just as hungry as the players, and that's what makes it cool."
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"The atmosphere is crazy," Short said. "Just walking into the building, you get chills."
Literal chills for Moore, who made the rookie mistake of wearing a short-sleeved tee into a building that was a crisp 63 degrees at puck drop.
That was an easy enough problem to solve, though: custom jerseys for everyone. By the second intermission, each Panthers player had his own custom sweater. The black, third jersey was a popular pick. The Eye team store had just run out of the letter "R" for nameplates on the black jerseys, so Julius Pepper's No. 90 sweater read "Pep," and McCaffrey's No. 22 (sorry, Brett Pesce) sported his initialized nickname "CMC." Thompson (No. 54) and Tepper (No. 18, presumably for the year he purchased the Panthers) opted for the red sweater.
"It's dope," Thompson said. "Dope scenery. Dope atmosphere, environment. We're going to pull out this win."
A win would have been nice, with the Hurricanes now facing a daunting 3-0 series deficit heading into Thursday's Game 4, but the Panthers did their part. Moore, Thompson and Short learned the game while they watched. The group, which filled a club-level suite, stood and cheered and helped fuel the energy inside the loudest building in the league.
The Hurricanes warning siren has been a fixture of the team's in-game entertainment since its introduction in October 2008. Nearly 11 years later, with the star-studded, athletic lineup of Kuechly, Rasheed Wallace and McCaffrey, it almost didn't make it out of Game 3.
"I hope we need a new siren because that means we're doing it right," McCaffrey joked in the first intermission.
Kuechly was first up, prior to the Canes taking the ice for the start of the game. He grabbed on to the siren with his left hand and began frenetically winding the crank with his right, whipping the crowd into a frenzy before "Rock You Like a Hurricane" blared over the loudspeakers.
"It's fun, man. I'm a big, big fan of positive energy," he said. "The amount of energy that was in this building when that thing was going off was just awesome."
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera had already set the bar high in Game 4 of the Second Round. Kuechly exceeded that.
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"Luke did what we expected Luke to do," Moore smiled.
"It was a blast. I think he did a really good job," McCaffrey said. "Set the standard really high."
The Bruins scored two quick goals early in the second period to open the scoring (Kuechly, dejected, put his hands on his head after the first), but Calvin de Haan answered with a slap shot that slipped under Tuukka Rask's pads.
Bedlam. Defensive end Mario Addison, Kuechly, McCaffrey, Moore and Thompson all high-fived. Short and Peppers raised their arms to pump up the crowd. Petey Pablo's "Raise Up" instructed the next move. Short snatched Thompson's rally towel, twisted it around his hand and spun it like a helicopter, knocking some popcorn out of Peppers' still outstretch hand.
"It's exciting, man. It gets your adrenaline pumped," Short said. "You see how loud the pop is, this is crazy."
Standing just behind the siren as the second intermission clock ticked down, McCaffrey stretched his arms in preparation.
"Now it's C-Mac's turn. We're about to see if he can top that," Short observed from the suite. "I think he will. Here we go."
"He'll kill it. He's going to be ready to go," Kuechly said. "He'll be ready to rock, too."
McCaffrey's form resembled Kuechly's: left hand holding the siren, right hand winding. "Let's go!" he screamed as he let go, the siren wailing just before Curtis McElhinney and the Canes stepped onto the ice for the third period.
The Hurricanes pushed in the third period, but Rask and the Bruins survived to win Game 3, 2-1, and take a commanding 3-0 series lead.
The result certainly could have been better for the Hurricanes, but the experience was unmatched for the Panthers.
"It's electric. It's super loud. Everyone here is so into it," McCaffrey said. "It's really cool to see everybody come together for a purpose. Having all these guys here, we know they support us, so it's cool to come back and be able to support them, too."