The Carolina Hurricanes are in the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2009, parlaying a wild-card berth into upsets of the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in seven games in the first round and the 103-point New York Islanders in a second-round sweep.
As is the case with any unexpected run through the postseason, heroes can be found at every turn for these Hurricanes. But who is most responsible for the success Carolina has experienced during a remarkable run that will see them play the Boston Bruins in the conference final?
We asked six NHL.com staffers for their thoughts on the most valuable person within the organization through the first two rounds of the playoffs:
[RELATED: Full Islanders vs. Hurricanes series coverage]
Tom Gulitti, staff writer
It's not easy to select one person for being most responsible for the Hurricanes' success because it's difficult to separate coach Rod Brind'Amour from forward and captain Justin Williams. Brind'Amour, the captain of Carolina's 2006 Stanley Cup team, has instilled his relentless work ethic and straightforward approach in the players who, as forward Jordan Martinook said, "would run through hot coals for that guy." Williams, a three-time Cup winner, including with Carolina in 2006, is an extension of Brind'Amour on the ice and in the locker room, which has helped foster the team-first mentality necessary for the Hurricanes, the embodiment of will over skill.
Mike G. Morreale, staff writer
What makes Carolina so unique is there aren't one or two players the opposing coach can plan to shut down, because its run has been such a collaborative effort. The one area of strength, however, has been its defenseman, specifically Jaccob Slavin. The 25-year-old has established a Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers record for defensemen in a single playoff season with 11 assists, but his play has gone much deeper. Long considered a shutdown-type, Slavin has drawn the most difficult assignments for Carolina. He was out against forward Alex Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom of the Capitals in the first round and on the ice against forward Anders Lee and center Mathew Barzal of the Islanders in the second round. Slavin leads the Hurricanes in average ice time in the playoffs (26:36) and blocked shots (28) and is first among Carolina defensemen with 2.26 points per 60 minutes.
Dan Rosen, senior writer
Jordan Staal is giving the Hurricanes the all-around game they need from their most-seasoned center. He has nine points (four goals, five assists). He's the only Carolina player with two game-winning goals, including the overtime goal in a 1-0 win in Game 1 of the second round against the Islanders. That was after he scored the tying goal 2:56 into the third period of Game 7 against the Capitals. Staal has won a Hurricanes-high 53.5 percent of his face-offs, including 22 of 42 (52.4 percent) on the penalty kill. He has been physical, leading Carolina with 54 hits. The Hurricanes have controlled 59.09 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts when he's on the ice. Staal may not be their most dominant player, but for this debate I'm choosing their most experienced center because of how vital he has been in their surge to the conference final.
Video: Brind'Amour on Carolina's success, team contributions
Bill Douglas, staff writer
Tough question given all the players who have stepped up for Carolina, from Williams to goalie Petr Mrazek before was injured. But I'm going with Brind'Amour, the first-year coach. The Hurricanes have become the embodiment of Brind'Amour in terms of conditioning, resilience, toughness and relentless style of play. Who is going to argue with a coach who looks like he's still in good enough shape to skate a shift or three out there? Brind'Amour's blunt, straightforward communication style -- no coach-speak -- makes it easy for younger players and veterans alike to understand what's expected of them, and they've delivered.
Brian Compton, deputy managing editor
This has no doubt been a collective effort, but I have to agree with Mike here about Slavin. Even Islanders coach Barry Trotz went out of his way toward the end of the series to rave about Slavin's play and wondered why more people don't discuss how talented he is. Slavin made everything look easy during the Eastern Conference Second Round, and his smooth skating ability always had him in the right spot to block shots or break up odd-man rushes. Let's not forget, he the only defenseman remaining in the playoffs averaging a point per game. It's easy to see why Brind'Amour has so much trust in Slavin and allows him to play major minutes.
Shawn P. Roarke, senior director of editorial
So many good choices here from my colleagues, but I'm going to go with Warren Foegele, the rookie forward who has elevated his game. Every successful team needs goals from an unexpected source and Foegele has been that player for the Hurricanes, scoring five goals in 11 postseason games after he scored 10 goals in 77 regular-season games. He scored the first two goals in Carolina's first home playoff game in a decade, in Game 3 of the first round, leading to a 5-0 victory to get back into the series against the Capitals. Then he scored 17 seconds into a Game 4 victory against Washington. In Game 2 against the Islanders, he scored 17 seconds into the third period to tie the game 1-1 in an improbable comeback that sent the Hurricanes home with a 2-0 series lead on the way to a sweep of New York. He has been the secret weapon every potential champion possesses.