WASHINGTON—Everyone talks about the noise in the playoffs, and there’s no question the Carolina Hurricanes brought it back this year, just like everyone remembered, the triple-digit deficits and earth-shaking roars. And at home, they gave their fans every reason to roar.
Few will remember the silence. The gaping audible void left when a cacophonous arena is stunned in disbelief. The absence of celebration. As it was in Newark 10 years ago. As it was in Boston. As it was again Wednesday in Washington when Brock McGinn scored 11:05 into a second overtime, knocking in a Justin Williams pass.
The Hurricanes have not merely returned to the playoffs. They have upended them. The Washington Capitals’ title defence was abruptly cut short by the Hurricanes’ 4-3 double overtime win in Game 7, and the Hurricanes have all of 43 hours to recover before it all starts again against the New York Islanders on Friday in Brooklyn.
After this prolonged and extended series, two overtimes’ worth of excruciating tension, it’s barely enough time to catch one’s breath, let alone rally emotional and physical facilities pushed to the limit by a seven-game slugfest where home ice proved utterly invulnerable until the final moment, when it did not.
It’s a problem the Hurricanes are suddenly very glad to have.
The Hurricanes spent most of the first two periods digging themselves a hole, only to leave themselves an opening, down 3-2 heading into the third, for Jordan Staal to score almost instantly, circling to the blue line to take a stretch pass from Jaccob Slavin and firing a wrister from the right circle. McGinn cleared a Tom Wilson shot off the line in the final two minutes of the third to deny the Capitals a late winner.
They started terribly, with a pair of defensive miscues within the first seven minutes putting them down two goals early. But Sebastian Aho, who couldn’t finish a golden chance between the first two Washington goals, got the Hurricanes on the board with his second goal of the series, short-handed in the second, knocking in his own rebound. Teuvo Teravainen answered an Evgeny Kuznetsov goal to keep the Hurricanes within a goal through two periods before Staal tied it up.
Somehow, in a run that almost stretches across generations, the Hurricanes are 7-1 in their past eight elimination games and 5-0 in their past five Game 7s, some with Justin Williams, some without. What the Hurricanes, as a franchise, have lacked in playoff quantity they certainly have made up in quality. Since their permanent home at PNC Arena opened in 2000, they have gone 4-1 in the first round and now put their 3-0 record in the second round on the line against the Islanders.
So another team from North Carolina heads to Barclays Center in pursuit of a title, even if it was merely the springboard for eventual heartbreak for Duke in 2017 (and Virginia in 2018 for that matter, the 2019 Tampa Bay Lightning of the ACC, as it turned out).
They are living proof of former general manager Jim Rutherford’s firm belief that anything can happen if you can just get a foot in the door, the shame of course having that door shut so firmly upon the foot so many times, not to mention all the times that foot was instead in the Hurricanes’ collective mouths.
Nevertheless, once again, they are in it, and at this point, to win it. The NHL’s best team is long gone, having been dispatched in a sweep. The Capitals’ title defence is over. Bill Peters and Paul Maurice saw their powerful teams exit early. The field is wide open at this point. The Hurricanes suddenly have as good a shot as anyone.