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Hurricanes credit fans, atmosphere at home games for special season

'There's a real community feel,' Brind'Amour says after Carolina eliminated in Eastern Final

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes never got the chance to do the ultimate Storm Surge celebration.

That, of course, would be skating around with the Stanley Cup.

Instead of that storybook ending to what had previously been a dream season, the Hurricanes had their Cup fantasy dashed in a four-game sweep by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final.

It ended with a 4-0 loss in Game 4 of the best-of-7 series on Thursday that left them feeling empty, but not discouraged enough to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Video: Bruins sweep Hurricanes, clinch Cup Final berth

When the Bruins were getting ready to accept the Prince of Wales Trophy as Eastern Conference champions, the Hurricanes gathered at center ice and raised their sticks as a final salute to the capacity-exceeding crowd of 19,041.

"I feel like this is a little bit more of a family atmosphere than a hockey team and its fans," Carolina forward and captain Justin Williams said. "I feel we're all involved and encapsulated in what we've done this year. We've all done it together, and to see this crowd and the area the way we want it to be and the way I remember it is awesome to see, and it was a genuine great relationship between us."

The Hurricanes began this season with the simple objective to become relevant again. They had become almost an afterthought since their last playoff appearance in 2009, which ended with a four-game sweep against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference final.

Carolina's 2006 Stanley Cup championship felt like a distant, faded memory when Rod Brind'Amour, who was captain of that team, was named coach on May 8, 2018. But together with Williams, also a member of the 2006 Cup team, Brind'Amour instilled in the Hurricanes a hard-working, relentless identity and a belief they could compete with anyone.

"We said at the start of the year and throughout the year that we need to challenge ourselves to be better because we're professionals," Williams said. "We want to be challenged. We don't settle for mediocrity and we want to compete, and we want to compete against the best and we want to challenge each other, and that's the only way to get better. We did that a lot this year and I'm extremely proud of what we've done."

Video: After their ECF loss, what's next for the Hurricanes?

The Hurricanes mixed in some fun along the way -- for themselves and for their fans -- with their Storm Surge celebrations after each home win during the regular season. What began as a group jump into the glass and boards developed into loosely-scripted skits that ranged from simulated baseball and basketball games to playing Duck Duck Goose to sparring with four-time World Heavyweight boxing champion Evander "The Real Deal" Holyfield.

When CBC commentator Don Cherry criticized the celebrations and called the Hurricanes "a bunch of jerks," they defiantly embraced it as part of their storyline. The fans embraced it too and bought thousands of "Bunch of Jerks" T-shirts.

Though the Storm Surge and their feud with Cherry got a lot of attention, the bigger picture was that the Hurricanes quietly were one of the best teams in the NHL from Dec. 31 on, going 31-12-2 to earn the first wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

They followed that by upsetting the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in seven games in the first round of the playoffs and sweeping the New York Islanders in the second round. Though the Bruins proved to be deeper and more skilled and were backed by a red-hot goalie in Tuukka Rask, that didn't erase all Carolina accomplished this season.

After averaging 15,481 in attendance over its final 23 regular-season home games -- up from 12,842 in their first 18 -- the Hurricanes experienced another jump in the playoffs, exceeding PNC Arena's listed capacity for hockey of 18,680 in each of its seven home games and averaging 19,038 per game.

"They've been unbelievable all year, especially in this playoff run," center Jordan Staal said of the fans. "They gave us life in the first series and they pushed us in that second one and they were great here in the third. We didn't give them a good enough show in the third round, but we appreciate the support and hopefully this team will continue to work like it did this year to give them a show."

Continuing this next season would be the next step. According to general manager Don Waddell, that has already begun.

Waddell said before the conference final began that Carolina already had done more than $3.6 million in new business for next season, compared to about $500,000 at a similar date last year.

"It just shows that people were waiting. They didn't go away," Waddell said. "They were waiting and now they've got something that they actually believe in."

The Hurricanes wished they could have given their fans a better ending, but it was clear from the standing ovation they received during the final minute and a half on Thursday that what they achieved was appreciated.

"I hate that we went out like that, on that game," Brind'Amour said. "That was a dud game for them to come watch, so I apologize for that. But tremendous support for our team and it means a lot to me, and it means a lot to our players and this organization to see the people not just coming back, but the way they do it and the way they get behind our group.

"It's a real community feel. There's something special."


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