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Just the Beginning

Lasting memories created in playoffs

by Mike Sundheim @MikeSundheim /

Regular seasons come and go, but our true, lasting sports memories are almost always associated with the playoffs.

We'll remember clinching a playoff berth on home ice, and Petr Mrazek celebrating with the crowd as fans embraced and exulted in the end of a long, playoff-less winter in Raleigh.

Video: NJD@CAR: Mrazek discusses Hurricanes making playoffs

We'll recall where we were and what we did in the moments after Brock McGinn's double-overtime goal quieted the Capital One Center crowd and sent the defending champs packing.

Video: CAR@WSH, Gm7: McGinn scores in 2OT to win series

We'll hear the echoes of "Sweep! Sweep!" at PNC Arena after Justin Williams scored Carolina's third second-period goal in Game 4 against the Islanders, virtually sealing the Hurricanes berth in the Eastern Conference Final.

Video: NYI@CAR, Gm4: Williams bats pass out of air for goal

We'll reminisce about Caniacs filling a closed-down Glenwood Avenue at watch parties, and a carrot-loving pig standing in a wagon.

I'm not sure people outside of this market understand how tough things got for fans here over the last nine years. Missing the playoffs is one thing. But the life was sucked out of this arena because of a bland and spiritless product. People would take shots from the outside about our fanbase. But, admittedly, there were times that those of us who watched every game wondered how even that many people were still coming to games.

From the start this year was different, coming from a new owner, new coach, new captain, new celebrations and new expectations. The magic was back at PNC Arena, with epic tailgating and legendary noise levels. From local celebrities to national media, everyone seemed to want to experience it for themselves.

Tweet from @MSmithCanes: Calvin de Haan scores to bring the #Canes within a goal, 2-1. The Panthers love it.

Tweet from @ScottyMcCreery: RALEIGH IS A HOCKEY TOWN!!!

Tweet from @JohnIsner: #Canes win!

Tweet from @frank_seravalli: I've seen #StanleyCup games in Boston, Denver, Columbus, San Jose and Raleigh in the last 10 days - and Carolina is the loudest barn so far this spring.

In 2009, after missing the playoffs in nine of 10 seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks made the postseason, racking up 46 regular-season wins. Their young core featured a 21-year old center (Jonathan Toews), a 20-year-old winger (Patrick Kane) and two defensemen just coming into their prime in 24-year-old Brent Seabrook and 25-year-old Duncan Keith. They made some noise in that postseason, knocking off Calgary and Vancouver before falling to Detroit in five games during the Western Conference Final.

This spring, after missing the playoffs nine consecutive seasons, the Carolina Hurricanes made the postseason, racking up 46 regular-season wins. Their young core featured a 21-year old center (Sebastian Aho), a 19-year-old winger (Andrei Svechnikov) and two defensemen just coming into their prime in 24-year-old Brett Pesce and 25-year-old Jaccob Slavin. They made some noise in the postseason, knocking off Washington and the New York Islanders before falling to Boston in four games during the Eastern Conference Final.

Clearly, it would be a little much to draw that parallel and expect the Hurricanes to replicate what those Blackhawks achieved over the following six seasons, as they brought the Stanley Cup to Chicago three times. But there is no reason not to expect Stanley Cup playoff hockey in Raleigh next spring. Or the spring after. Or the spring after that.

With an average age of 26.1, the Hurricanes were easily the youngest team in the NHL's final four this season, and just three (Jordan Staal, Justin Faulk and Justin Williams) of their top 12 scorers this postseason were older than 25. Carolina's leading goal scorers in the playoffs were Teuvo Teravainen (24 years old), Aho (21) and Warren Foegele (23). The Hurricanes defenseman with the most goals in the regular season and the playoffs was Dougie Hamilton, who is somehow still only 25 years old.

And oh, by the way, their American Hockey League affiliate in Charlotte led the league during the regular season and has stormed into the third round of the playoffs themselves.

So let's take a deep breath, catch up on sleep and rest up those vocal chords. Visit our beautiful North Carolina beaches or mountains. Enjoy a couple cold beverages and smile about the playoff memories made this spring, with the knowledge that we'll be making more soon enough.

Is it October yet?

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