Luke DeCock

Hurricanes refuse to go away, continue to win in spite of themselves

There was more than a whiff of fortune about this, the Carolina Hurricanes cramming two goals into 48 seconds of the third period and then hanging on for dear life, but it was entirely in keeping with their method and their madness. This team cannot be counted out. It refuses to go away.

They have made it this far in the playoffs with stars that couldn’t shoot straight, key players getting injured, without any answer for Alex Ovechkin and with a power play that hasn’t asked any questions of anyone. It almost seems like the Hurricanes have gotten this far in spite of themselves at times, scraping and scrapping their way to wins.

They’re taking this “Bunch of Jerks” stuff way too seriously, even as the bunch continues to be thinned out by injuries. Without six players – missing three before the game and losing three during it, including starting goalie Petr Mrazek – the Hurricanes somehow mustered one defining push to start the third period and walked away with the first road sweep of the opening two games of a playoff series in franchise history.

There’s no guarantee they even have to come back to Brooklyn after Sunday’s 2-1 win over the New York Islanders in Game 2, thanks to goals from Warren Foegele and Nino Niederreiter in the first furious minute and change of the third period that wiped out an early deficit and turned a rowdy, boisterous crowd against the home team.

“We joked back in there, the coaches, this is something, what’s happening,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “Just based on the injuries and whatnot. We expect to win. Our leaders don’t let whoever’s going out there next take a breath. It’s given us a chance every night.”

The extraordinary resiliency this team has shown comes from the top, from Brind’Amour and Justin Williams and Jordan Staal and Jaccob Slavin, as stoic a quartet of hockey philosophers as there ever was, three Stanley Cup winners and a younger leader of similar uncommon inner peace. It long ago suffused itself through the dressing room, to the point where a rookie like Foegele could not only score the game-tying goal with a nasty far-side top-shelf wrister, but take a shot off the cheekbone in the third period, be shocked that his face wasn’t covered in blood, and not miss a shift.

A midseason AHL call-up like Greg McKegg, who has spent his career bouncing between the minors and the NHL, has that resiliency built into him, but this environment cultivates its growth, and he can recognize its spread, its viral transmission from locker to locker, as well as anyone.

“It starts at the top with Roddy and Willy and all those guys and the coaching staff,” McKegg said. “It just filters down to the group. There’s a lot of glue guys and a lot of positivity flying around the room. It’s a good mixture right now and we’re just trying to ride the wave.”

And as the bodies continued to drop – Trevor van Riemsdyk after 36 seconds, Mrazek early in the second, Saku Maenalanen late – the Hurricanes merely redoubled their efforts. If there was a bright side to Mrazek’s injury, it was that Curtis McElhinney’s inherent calm was ideal for settling nerves on a night when the Islanders seemed constantly to be attacking, albeit to no avail.

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes continue to squander power-play opportunities, on this night 96 seconds of priceless two-man advantage, and continued to look not so good doing it. Multiple NHL sources refused to confirm or deny the Hurricanes are the control group in an ambitious and groundbreaking experiment to determine how important the power play is in the postseason.

There is no grand design here; the Hurricanes are being held together with duct tape and chewing gum, they have more self-belief than raw talent, whatever breaks they have gotten – two disallowed goals and enough help from the posts that they will require repainting, if there even is a Game 5 back in Brooklyn – they have certainly earned. And they have needed all of them.

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered four Final Fours, the Summer Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.
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