Droschak: Carolina's Moments of the Decade
In this article, Droschak takes a look at the most memorable moments of the last decade. We would love to hear your feedback or some of your favorites over the last 10 years in Raleigh, either via email or on our message boards.
Up next: 2010-19
Few, if any teams in the NHL packed as many dramatic and exhilarating moments into a decade as the Carolina Hurricanes from 2000-09. In the postseason alone, the Canes won 15 overtime games while settling into the RBC Center, and won a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. Carolina also hosted an NHL Entry Draft, selected a player by the name of Eric Staal and retired the jerseys of two of the franchise’s greatest players.
“For a relatively short history we’ve had a lot of great moments, which is pretty cool,” said captain Rod Brind’Amour. “I’ve always said in your life if you can look back and have memories that’s what it’s all about. It’s not going to be great every day but we seem to have been able to realize some awesome moments, some pretty cool things.”
There have only been seven Game 7s of the Cup Finals in the last 37 years and Carolina and the Caniacs were privileged enough to host one. Close to 19,000 fans crammed into the RBC Center for the dramatic showdown with the Edmonton Oilers – and not many ever took their seats. Arguably the most wild scene in Triangle sports history, Carolina took an early lead and never relinquished it en route to a 3-1 victory and the state’s first professional sports title. The emergence of the Stanley Cup from the north tunnel of the RBC Center was indeed out of this world. I was one of the fortunate few to partake in the postgame locker room celebration, a moment in my life I will never forget.
“It was an overwhelming sense of joy – and it was surreal,” Brind’Amour said last week when asked to reflect on the Cup victory. “It was a culmination of a lot of hard work and some really good people coming together. It meant so much for the city; it boosted everyone’s morale. Everyone you ran into said they were at the game, so you felt like you met everyone who was at the game. For this town, where we don’t have any other pro teams, it lofted us up there.”
Cup Finals - June 8, 2002: The only loss on this list, the first Stanley Cup Finals game in Raleigh was a night – and a long one at that – to remember. The game featured a combined 91 saves by Artus Irbe and Dominik Hasek in the longest Cup Finals game in NHL history. The Canes were clinging to a 2-1 lead against a star-studded Detroit team when Brett Hull tipped in a shot in the waning moments of regulation to send the game into OT. The drama built with each passing minute and each save by Irbe – who stopped 50 shots on this night – before Igor Larionov scored late in the third OT and well past midnight.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better Cup Finals introduction for your fans with the way that game went, other than us not winning at the end,” former captain Ron Francis said. “We were a triple overtime win away from pulling off a pretty major upset.”
Indeed. The Red Wings took a 2-1 lead in the series with the triple overtime victory and went on to win the next two to capture the Cup.
“I remember getting home at 3 o’clock in the morning from a home game. That was something,” coach Paul Maurice said.
- Game 6, Eastern Conference Finals - May 28, 2002: The Canes reach their first-ever Stanley Cup Finals when Martin Gelinas tips the puck past Curtis Joseph to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 8:05 into overtime. It was the third win of the series in Toronto as the upstart Hurricanes won their third overtime game of the six-game series.
“That was really the first game that fairly quickly after it ended I was reminded of what the other team must be feeling because of the way it turned and then the season is over in a minute,” Maurice said. “Toronto hadn’t been to the Cup Finals for so long; it was almost a foregone conclusion that they would make it. They split the games here and everybody said we had no chance of winning in Toronto because of the crowd and we won both.”
The Canes beat Toronto without giving up a 5-on-5 goal, a remarkable feat for a six-game series.
“That’s how good Arturs Irbe was and how tight we played our game,” Maurice said.
May 9, 2002: The greatest comeback in team playoff history. The Canes trailed Montreal 3-0 heading into the third period and already were behind 2-1 in the Conference Semifinals when Carolina rallied for three goals, including Erik Cole’s late score with the goalie pulled, to send the game into OT. The Hurricanes then get a goal from Niclas Wallin 3:14 into the extra period to stun the Canadiens. The victory turns the momentum of the series as the Canes outscore Montreal 13-3 over the final two games to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
“I had been out on the ice for a good 20 seconds and there was a whistle in their zone and a faceoff and I looked back to the bench because I thought for sure they were going to put the big guns in there,” Wallin said. “But coach just put his hand up for me to stay out there and (Jeff) O’Neill just won the draw clear and I took the wrist shot and it went in. That was a game to remember – it was a special time, overtime, a lot of feelings, a lot of nerves, but I like those kind of games.”
It was the birth of the light-scoring defenseman’s affectionate nickname: “The Secret Weapon.”
- Game 1, Stanley Cup Finals - June 4, 2002: One of the few times in my 30-year journalism career where I’ve had writer’s block. The hockey media had scripted Carolina’s impending massacre at the hands of a team of future Hall of Famers in the Detroit Red Wings before the puck was even dropped in the 2002 Cup Finals. But Ron Francis scores less than a minute into overtime to give the Canes a 3-2 victory and the early lead in the series. It was the seventh OT win for the Canes during that ‘02 postseason run.
“I just remember the quiet,” Maurice said of Joe Louis Arena. “Ronnie scored that goal and you could hear 25 people screaming (on our bench) and then it was just dead quiet because there was an awful lot of shock in that building.”
“That team was probably as gritty a team as I ever played on,” added Francis.
Playing against their playoff rival of the decade – the New Jersey Devils – this back and forth series goes down to the bitter end of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Trailing 3-2 with 1:20 left, Jussi Jokinen scores to tie it and then Staal beats future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur with 32 seconds remaining to score the improbable road playoff series win.
“Coming against the defensive team of the decade and one of the best goalies of all-time it was one of those moments you won’t forget,” Staal said.
“I had my next two lines up and I wasn’t expecting anything crazy after Jussi scored,” added Maurice. “I don’t think anybody expected Staal to snap that one off and end it like that -- the second-most quietest building I’ve been in."
- Walker’s Waterloo - May 14, 2009: Gritty winger Scotty Walker taps the puck out of mid-air and past Tim Thomas late in overtime to beat Boston in Game 7. The victory sends the Canes to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in the decade, joining just New Jersey, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to accomplish that feat. Earlier in the week, Walker had learned that his wife Julie was battling cervical cancer and he was vilified in Boston for punching Aaron Ward in the face.
“That was my favorite moment in all of sports that I have been involved with,” Maurice said of Walker’s series-clinching goal. “He was dealing with a lot on his own, and then to have him score. We got off the plane and all the wives were there to greet him. It was just so special.”
Jan. 28, 2006: The hottest regular-season ticket in Carolina history, Ronnie Franchise’s No. 10 jersey is hoisted to the RBC Center rafters. There were few dry eyes in the building as one of the game’s greatest players and gentleman enjoys the night with his wife Mary Lou and three children.
“When you are growing up you just want to make it to the NHL and play, and once you get there to win a Stanley Cup,” Francis said. “But to have your jersey retired is a huge honor. It was a special night; it was very classy. How the organization did things off the ice, how they treated my family and friends that came into town, was something I won’t forget. The fans here have always been great to me. You’re in the community and you see that they are very special people, how they are passionate about their sports and how they respect you.”
- Eric Staal drafted - June 22, 2003: In one of the most anticipated NHL Drafts in Canes history, Pittsburgh selects goalie Marc-Andre Fleury first overall, opening the door for Carolina to pick rangy center Eric Staal. It is the team’s highest selection since taking Chris Pronger second in 1993. Staal quickly becomes the team’s centerpiece, winning a Stanley Cup on 2006, making three straight All-Star teams and the 2010 Canadian Olympic squad, while setting 16 franchise records. The 25-year-old Staal also gave the Canes tremendous exposure by donning the cover of the EA Sports video game NHL 08.
- Game 6, Eastern Conference quarterfinals - April 22, 2001: The birth of the decade-long playoff rivalry with New Jersey, the Canes trailed the series 3-0 and eventually lost in six games but not before throwing a scare into the Cup champs. The fans, sensing the Canes’ grit and determination against a superior team, begin a standing ovation with two minutes left in regulation despite trailing in the game 5-1. The crowd’s appreciation lasts well past the final horn and remains one of he truly emotional RBC Center moments of the decade.