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What is Hurricanes hockey? It starts with Rutherford

by John Manasso /
RALEIGH, N.C. -- They have a different coach, a slightly different stylistic approach and 11 or 12 different players on a given night, but Carolina Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour sees similarities in how his team is playing in these playoffs and to 2006 when it won the Stanley Cup.

"The bottom line is the commitment that every guy's making to do what's being asked in terms of the team structure," said Brind'Amour, whose ice time has diminished the last two games, but is still an integral player in late-game situations. "It doesn't matter if you're (leading scorer) Eric Staal. We're all buying into it and I think that's what's making us successful."

The one constant, of course, is Carolina General Manager Jim Rutherford and his vision of hockey. Since 2002, only Detroit, Anaheim and Carolina have reached the Stanley Cup Final twice.

And now as the Eastern Conference's No. 6 seed, Carolina leads top-seeded Boston 2-1 and stands two wins from its third Eastern Conference Finals in seven seasons entering Friday's Game 4 at the RBC Center (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN, RIS).

What is Carolina Hurricanes hockey?

It's playing close games, working hard, amassing good character players and utilizing speed.

The Hurricanes, playing in one of the League's smallest markets, seemingly are one of the biggest beneficiaries of the post-lockout salary cap. Coach Paul Maurice joked Wednesday about how when the puck dropped for Game 1 of the '02 Final against Detroit, the Red Wings' starting lineup was paid more than Carolina's whole team. The Hurricanes had to play a clutch-and-grab style, he said, because it was their only way to compete.

With the cap acting as an equalizer, management – particularly drafting and scouting, pro or amateur – counts more than a big bank account.

"It's definitely an offensive game, but I think we've adapted now to putting defense in there," said Scott Walker, who finished this third full season with Carolina. "It's a speed game … We're hard-working, but offensively we're quick on the puck. We move the puck well, but I think most teams would say that when they're playing well."

The Hurricanes are starting to attract attention for so-called "reclamation projects" that are powering them through these playoffs: forwards Jussi Jokinen, Tuomo Ruutu and Sergei Samsonov. Even Erik Cole and Matt Cullen, both members of Carolina's '06 team, have become more productive after they were re-acquired than they were with their former teams, Edmonton and the New York Rangers, respectively.

"I think it all really goes (in) the end to your general manager having a sense of what your team needs so that when you bring a player in and it's what your team needs, you fit right away," said Maurice, who would fit that description himself in his second incarnation with the Canes. "… But Jim's brought back players to fit a need and because they fit a need they get an opportunity that maybe they weren't getting somewhere else. They get put into the right spots.

"It's not enough to acquire good players. You have to acquire good players that fit your needs."

Sometimes those players are players that you have traded or allowed to sign somewhere else.

Carolina Hurricanes Playoff Gear"The thing with the group here, it's such an easy group to get along with and it starts with the captain," said Cole, who is receiving credit for the increased production of Staal down the stretch. "And it filters down on through. I think that this organization has always looked at character guys almost first and foremost in front of their hockey talents. We accept guys for who they are and what they do and what they bring."

That organizational philosophy of finding players who are a good fit seems to make it easy on the coach and, as a result, easy on the players.

"Well, I think that's one thing that I've always enjoyed about Paul and playing for him," Cole said. "You always know where you stand and what's expected of you. And I think that when you have that it's really easy to go out and compete and play hard and just do your job and when you're doing that it's easy to come to the rink every day. It's just easy to go about your business."

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