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Hurricanes living up to owner's vision, plan in playoffs

Dundon piles praise on coaches, players, fans with Carolina halfway to Cup

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Tom Dundon stood off to the side, watching and proudly listening to coach Rod Brind'Amour talk to the media about the work ethic, commitment and the elevated expectations that have propelled the Carolina Hurricanes into the Eastern Conference Final.

"What's good is it kind of validates [everything]," the Hurricanes owner said after his team completed a four-game sweep of the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference Second Round with a 5-2 win on Friday. "Rod does things the right way and everybody just does things the right way. 

"When things weren't going good earlier in the year, he didn't get mad at anybody, he didn't blame anybody and nobody gave up on the plan. … The fact that the players in the organization stuck with it and are getting this now is pretty good."

 

[RELATED: Hurricanes rode defense, depth to conference final]

 

Dundon had a vision for the Hurricanes when he became their majority owner on Jan. 11, 2018. Though there will be work left to do to achieve that vision, no matter how far this Stanley Cup Playoff run takes them, the atmosphere at PNC Arena on Friday made it feel much closer to becoming a reality.  

A Hurricanes-record crowd of 19,495 towel-waving fans celebrated the first sweep of a best-of-7 series in Carolina/Hartford Whalers history and dreamed of what could come next. 

"It's fun. Right?" Dundon said. "It's a relief, too."

Dundon thought his nerves would subside after the Hurricanes qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2009, earning the first wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference by going 46-29-7 in their first season under Brind'Amour. But watching playoff games has proven to be equally stressful.

"I thought if we just made it, then you could just [relax]," Dundon said. "But then your expectations change."

Why not think big? 

Video: Canes sweep Islanders, surge into Conference Final

Carolina is the first team this season to secure a place in the conference final; they'll face either the Columbus Blue Jackets or the Boston Bruins, who are tied 2-2 in their second-round series with Game 5 at TD Garden on Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

The Hurricanes would have home-ice advantage against the Blue Jackets, who qualified as the second wild card in the East. Fueled by its raucous fans, Carolina is 5-0 at PNC Arena in the playoffs, outscoring its first-round opponent, the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, and the Islanders by a combined 22-7 in those five games.

Forward and captain Justin Williams said the building was "darn near close" to what it was like to play there when Carolina won the Stanley Cup in 2006.

Brind'Amour, the captain that season, and Williams are the links to that past that Dundon, the 47-year-old chairman and managing partner of Dundon Capital Partners, a Dallas-based private investment firm, heard so much about when he purchased 61 percent of the Hurricanes from Peter Karmanos. Now he's getting to experience it, too.

"We talked about we had to give [fans] a reason to come and hopefully we're giving them a reason," Dundon said. "And now we need turn these people who weren't around before into fans for years to come."

The Hurricanes' second-half playoff push sparked a jump in attendance to an average of 15,481 over their final 23 home games, compared to 12,842 in their first 18. In the playoffs, they've exceeded PNC Arena's listed capacity for hockey of 18,680 in each of their five home games and averaged 19,092 per game.

The hope is the revitalized interest in the Hurricanes from these playoffs will carry over into next season. Without getting into specific numbers, Dundon said season ticket sales for 2019-20 are already "way better" than they were this season.

Video: Canes reach fourth Conference Final in as many trips

As stressful as it has sometimes been -- Carolina trailed Washington 3-2 in the first round and needed double overtime in Game 7 to win that series -- Dundon acknowledged this has felt like a dream at times.

"Absolutely," he said. "It's hard because I expect to win. I expect us to be good. I expect us to win. It would have been a nightmare not to win, but the fact that we're doing well, I'm obviously very appreciative of it."

Dundon credits general manager Don Waddell, Brind'Amour, whose straightforward approach from his playing days has translated well behind the bench, and the players for buying in.

"People ask me if you're nervous about the game. Are you excited?" Dundon said. "I said, 'Well, I don't know if we're going to win, but I know we'll try hard.' You know it. I think that's the thing everybody should be proud of, all the players and coaches, that you don't have to question what you're going to see. You know it. And for me, that was the job. 

"That's the job, and then after that you live with the result."

Except, after winning the first two rounds in the playoffs, Dundon is greedy for more.

"I think so," he said. "That's the problem."

The kind of problem any owner would welcome.

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