As the final minute ticked off the clock in the Carolina Hurricanes' 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night, a 15%-of-capacity capacity crowd at PNC Arena rose to its feet.
The 2,924 in attendance applauded in appreciation of their team's performance, especially the three-goal third period that spurred the Canes to a franchise-best 16-6-1 record through 23 games. The chant was "Let's Go Canes!"
From the chants to the cheers to the boos to the woos, it had been a while since authentic, organic crowd noise filled PNC Arena.
And even if that sound was coming from yet a fraction of a sold-out hockey crowd, the joyous din sure filled the building with life once more, some 370 days since it last teemed with that palpable electricity and energy.
"It was definitely noticeable that there were some people there. They were certainly cheering and doing their best. It was nice to see," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "There was definitely some emotion in the building. We gave them something to cheer about, which was nice."
The return of fans to the building also prompted the resurrection of the Storm Surge, the Canes' signature home win celebration that captivated (and perturbed) hearts and minds in the hockey world when it was introduced in 2018. It was a fitting Surge given the larger, worldly state. The team, encircling center ice, clapped in unison with the fans before offering a stick salute to Deepika Malhotra, a Sr. Registered Respiratory Therapist at UNC REX. Without Malhotra and the tireless work of all other frontline health workers, the scene inside PNC Arena on Thursday night wouldn't have even been feasible.
Video: Hurricanes perform first Storm Surge of the season
Afterward, the lights dimmed as the three stars of the game were announced. Jordan Staal, who was named the first star after he recorded the game-winning goal and two assists, smiled as he adjusted the headset for his postgame interview. The crowd roared as analyst Tripp Tracy shouted them out.
"Welcome back, guys!" Staal bellowed. "That was awesome. It's good to have a buzz back in the building. I thought you guys did a great job keeping us in that game, and we found a way to get it done in the third period."
As time passes and we continue to push forward through the fog of a pandemic toward brighter days ahead, crowd size will only grow. Tailgating will return one day, and the building will be full and rocking once more.
But welcome back, indeed, and here's to many more nights like it.
"It was almost like a playoff game compared to what we were playing with before. It was great. They were loud," Staal said in his postgame Zoom interview. "It definitely brought some new life to the building that the boys were really excited about. Happy to see some fans and happy to get back to some normalcy."