Ahead was the opportunity to end the series and hoist the Cup on home ice in Game 5.
Aaron Ward: "Clearly, we wanted to win it at home. Everybody wants to. You want to do it in front of your fanbase that's been on that ride with you."
The Oilers were quick to strike in Game 5, with Fernando Pisani scoring his 11th goal of the postseason, a redirection of Chris Pronger's point blast, just 16 seconds in. The Canes settled in, though, answering with a pair of power play goals from Eric Staal and Ray Whitney before the game was even 10-and-a-half minutes old. Edmonton struck back twice before the end of the period, including once on the power play and then again with just 18 seconds left in the frame, to take a 3-2 lead into the locker room after a wild 20 minutes.
Staal netted his second goal of the game and ninth of the playoffs - again on the power play - in the second period to force a 3-3 deadlock, which held through the balance of regulation. Early in overtime, the Canes misfired on a power play breakout, and Pisani, in all alone, roofed a shot that beat Cam Ward and stunned the home crowd.
With that dramatic conclusion, the series was headed back to Edmonton, and the Oilers had life once again.
Rod Brind'Amour: "That had an absolute drain on you mentally, and it's tough to overcome that. That was our worst game the following game."
Ward: "I think the toughest part about that game was leveling the disappointment we had and parking it. We all drove to the rink believing in Game 5 that this was it, that we're going to do it. To lose in the manner we did - it would have been an epic story to write that we won it in OT, we're all throwing our gloves and blowing it up in Raleigh. To have to really regain your focus was one of the toughest things ever, and I think that's why it played out the way it did in Game 6."
Erik Cole, who suffered a broken neck in Pittsburgh in early March 2006, made a triumphant return to the Canes' lineup in Game 6.
Despite that morale boost, the Canes managed just 16 shots on Jussi Markkanen in a 4-0 loss.
Justin Williams: "We got absolutely beat around. We got bullied out of Edmonton. That was the first 'Uh oh.' They flexed their muscles back. That was the first game it was like 'OK, we're not as good as we think we are. We better damn show up and do this.'"
Ward: "That was an absolute punting. We could have essentially just saved the travel. You just kind of knew going into Game 6 it was going to go that way. They had the momentum, and we were down mentally somewhat because of the fact that our hopes and aspirations were to win it at home. That Game 5, that was a tough pill to swallow."
A long flight back across North America with one last game on the schedule.
Brind'Amour: "It was probably one of the most relaxed games I ever had to prepare for, even though it was the most important game I ever played in. Knowing it was going to be over. That uncertainly after Game 5 and 6 that you just don't know if it was going to be it. You knew this was it. Whether we win or lose, this was it."
This was it. It all came down to a final game, a final three periods, a final 60 minutes that would decide it all.
Williams: "Game 7, it's the last game of the year. You know that going into it. That's your mentality. Don't have any regrets - I wish I did this or I wish I tried a little harder or I wish I went down to block a shot. Everything is on the table, and everyone is going to give what they can. Everyone is going to give 100 percent. Everyone is going to try as hard as they can. It's the guy who can find just a little bit more, just that extra in the tank that sets you apart."
Brind'Amour: "It felt really good going to the rink knowing this is what you dreamt of your whole life. You don't talk about winning the Stanley Cup in Game 6 when you're dreaming - no, it's Game 7. That's just how it is. It was playing out the way you dreamt about since you were old enough to play hockey. It was pretty easy to come to the rink that night."
Ward: "Everybody was different. I remember going through my gameday routine, and I couldn't settle. I couldn't take my pregame nap. I couldn't finish my pregame meal. My daughter was born April 10 of that year, and one of the traditions I had was I always wore pink to every single game in honor of her. I know the pink tie - I still have it - and I struggled to tie the tie. I got off US-1 North and got onto 40 West to head towards the rink, and I had to pull my car off on the exit because I thought I was going to vomit. That was so out of the norm if you know my personality. I'm happy-go-lucky, I take things as they go, I'm kind of a hyper guy, I was kind of the guy who tried to bring other people along, but that day, for me, was a struggle to get myself together. I'm glad [Williams and Brind'Amour] felt composed, but I had no composure that day."
As it turned out, the guy who had no composure gave the Canes an early dose of just that with the opening goal of the game, scored just 86 seconds in, a slap shot from the top of the right circle that found its way through traffic and past Markkanen.
Ward: "I felt like getting the first goal was the deflating of the balloon. It didn't pop the balloon, but it took a lot of pressure off. Where the tension exists on the bench and you're waiting for something, the longer the game drags on and things don't go your way, the more you're squeezing the stick. I felt like for us, [the goal] was the 'holy crap' moment. We just got the first jump, and it happened really early. You know from their perspective that there's a deflating on that bench. There's a, 'Oh no. This is Game 7 on the road, and things are not completely in our favor already, and they've already got the lead on us.'"
An already electric building was bursting with energy. Pandemonium is the only way to describe the atmosphere after Aaron Ward broke the ice.
In the second period, Cory Stillman found Frantisek Kaberle open on the power play. He took a step and let go of a slap shot from above the left circle that whizzed past Markkanen and put the Canes up 2-0.
Just 63 seconds into the third period, it was Pisani again getting the Oilers on the board, as he crashed the net and chipped in a rebound. The Canes lead was now 2-1 in the final period of Game 7.
With three minutes and change left to play in regulation, Pisani skated the puck up through the neutral zone with Raffi Torres to his left. He chipped a backhand pass over to Torres on the wing, as Mike Commodore kept him to the outside. Torres got a shot off that Cam Ward kicked out, and Pisani had the rebound on his tape. Ward, stretching out the left pad in desperation, stoned the Oilers' leading playoff goal scorer with a remarkable save, an image frozen in time.
That game-saving stop would have brought the 18,978 at the RBC Center to their feet - but they were already standing and had been for the entirety of Game 7, creating one of the most unique and boisterous atmospheres in all of sports.
Williams: "I didn't know everybody didn't sit down for the whole game until maybe the end of the game when someone mentioned it. You're so locked into what you need to do and what your job is. We knew it was going to be loud and electric, an unreal atmosphere. Getting the crowd riled up early as we did, that obviously ended up being the difference in the game."
Ward: "The craziest part to me was that nobody sat down. Even though it's like, what does that matter? It matters because for the entirety of that game, everybody was actively participating. That's the coolest thing."
Brind'Amour: "I don't know that you could ever play in a sporting event and have a more engaged crowd. I think it literally might have made history that night, however many people were in that building, every fan was engaged and invested in that win. I bet if you ask anyone who was there, they were probably as tired as we were after that game because it was just so mentally draining knowing what was at stake, right? That's what made it so special and really forged that relationship that we have with the Caniacs here, which is something special."
Video: Moment 1: Hurricanes Win the Stanley Cup
With just over a minute to play in regulation, Bret Hedican batted the puck up the boards to Staal, who then found Williams open at center ice and room to skate - and an empty net - ahead. Staal began leaping into the air realizing what was about to happen. Williams pumped the puck into the yawning cage and celebration ensued, on the ice, on the bench and in the stands. The Canes were up 3-1 with 61 seconds to play.
The rest is history, and the Carolina Hurricanes were Stanley Cup Champions.
Ward: "Did anybody think this was possible at the start of the year outside of the locker room? No. Would I tell you that we had 100 percent belief in that locker room? No. Did it take a lot of winning over from a coach that had a plan that he had to implement, and he had to get a complete happen - and did that happen? Absolutely. As you sat there and looked around, there were so many things unique to that team there will never exist amongst others. We had Julia Rowe, the bottle of wine, the Whatever it Takes coins. Poor Chad LaRose walking around with half a season with a camera Lavi made him take and made him promise he wouldn't tell any of us about what the hell he was doing with a camera on the road. He put up with so much damn abuse for having that camera, we used to call him "super fan." But, Lavi thought ahead midway through the season and realized there was a way to capitalize on these memories and use it was a motivational component for this team. There was so much about the experience that normal teams wouldn't have and we did. That was an experience like nothing else. Only the guys in that locker room truly know who was hurt - going back there and knowing how hard it was on Doug Weight in Game 7 not to play the game. What travel was like, what the feeling was like on the plane coming home from Edmonton going into Game 7. All those experiences are unique to every individual player in that locker room. That's what I absorbed. Like, holy s---. You can't even write a book like this."
Williams: "For me being such a young player, it was different. You're naïve in the fact that, 'All right. I'll probably win one next year or three in the next five.' You're just like, 'All right, I'll be back here soon.' For me, fortunately I got back there but it was six years after that. The guys who really had the appreciation for it - I had some, but even more were the older guys. We only had a couple guys who had won a Stanley Cup. For a veteran team, that's what makes it a lot more special, knowing that these guys went 14, 15, 16, Roddy 17 years I think, without touching the Stanley Cup. That's what you play for. You play for yourself, your teammates, your family."
Brind'Amour: "It's kind of hard to put into words, to be quite honest with you. Everything you put into it since you dreamt about winning it - to me, it's always that extra work you did in the summer, the practices, the broken bones, your family sacrificing. For me, I had three kids at the time old enough to enjoy that. Everybody that was a part of it. Honestly, it was gratitude. That's what I remember sitting in my stall, just being so grateful that I was able to accomplish that with the guys that I did and that my family was able to be a part of it. Our sport is really unique that way in that it's such a sacrifice for your family just to be able to get you to play as a kid. They're with you every step of the way. For me winning it, especially at that stage, I think it just made it that much more special. I just remember being so grateful."