On a night when the Hurricanes raised No. 17 to the rafters, the Hurricanes bested Brind’Amour’s former team, the Philadelphia Flyers, in dramatic fashion thanks to Erik Cole’s late goal with 3:03 remaining. The tally, Cole’s seventh game-winner of the season and second in three games that made the score 3-2, provided the perfect ending to the festivities.
“It was a great night all around,” said Chad LaRose, who opened the scoring four minutes in to the first period. “It was touching to everybody, and it was great to see a good friend out there and his jersey go to the rafters.”
The Hurricanes seemed to feed off the emotion of Brind’Amour’s touching pregame speech, with LaRose and Jeff Skinner giving the home team a 2-0 lead with just over six minutes gone in the game. That prompted former Carolina coach Peter Laviolette, now with the Flyers, to call his timeout in an effort to stem the Canes’ momentum.
“There was a lot of emotion in the building, and I really liked the way we harnessed that and came out very, very strong and skated well,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice.
Although the Canes finished the frame much like the started it, even though they did not add to their lead, the Flyers would tie the game at two with goals in the second and third periods, the first an effort from Blair Betts and a second by defenseman Braydon Coburn, just his second of the season, with five minutes left in the third.
At that point, the Hurricanes’ perfect 18-0-0 record when leading after two periods seemed to be in jeopardy. However, as was the case with his game-tying goal in Tampa Bay last Saturday and his late winner in Atlanta on Sunday, Cole surfaced alter the outcome of the contest. With Jussi Jokinen carrying the puck up the left wing, Cole broke away from a defender with a sudden burst of speed, making a subtle play to lift his opponent’s stick at the last second before depositing a pass into the empty net.
“It was a great pass by ‘Juice,’” said Cole of Jokinen, who was promoted to the team’s top line midway through Wednesday’s game in New Jersey.
The win capped what every Hurricanes player and Maurice described as a postseason atmosphere at the RBC Center, with 18,726 fans – more than the listed capacity – on hand to witness Brind’Amour’s night.
“It makes a difference when you can feed off the atmosphere, and what a great atmosphere the Caniacs gave to the rink tonight,” said Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward. “If that’s not playoff hockey, I don’t know what is. It had a buzz all night.”
“It was a big game for us, and it felt like a playoff game out there,” said LaRose. “The building was rocking, and the two points to come out on top were big for us.”
There’s still plenty of time remaining in the regular season, but it’s possible that the Hurricanes could see more of the same despite having finished their season series with the Flyers. If the playoffs started today, the two teams would meet in the first round as the Eastern Conferences’ first and eighth seeds.
“At the end of the day, you want to be able to compete against everybody and prove to yourselves that you can beat everyone,” said Cole, who is now tied for second in the NHL in game-winning goals. “They’re probably one of those teams that will be there that we’re going to have to get through to get to the Stanley Cup.”
In between their hot start and Cole’s winner, Carolina looked to be in trouble at various points. Most notably, they failed to convert on a full two minutes of a five-on-three power play after allowing a shorthanded goal from Betts. The Canes would finish 0-6 on the power play, continuing a stretch in which they’ve scored just one power play goal in their last six games, going 1-23 in that span.
“It was unfortunate our power play couldn’t convert when probably could have gotten a squeeze on the game, but that’s the way it goes and you’ve just got to keep playing,” said Cole.
In other instances, Ward was there to keep the Canes in good position. Although he admitted that he could have done better on the Betts goal, a wrist shot from the faceoff circle that beat him glove side, he responded brilliantly with an unbelievable save while on his back, denying a sure goal by the Flyers’ Matt Carle.
“I had a good look at it,” joked Ward. “You’re in desperation mode at that stage. Although the first one was a little deflected, I wanted to have that one back, so I was happy to catch that one.”
“He’d want (the first) one back, and then that save – there’s not too many guys that can make it,” said Maurice. “I thought he was like our team. He was resilient. He had done a lot of really good things in that game, had a bad break go against him and then was outstanding after that.”
The win marked just the first time the Hurricanes have beaten the Flyers in regulation since Dec. 19, 2006. The Flyers had posted a record of 15-0-3 in that time frame, including five straight victories and three this season.
In the event that the two teams do meet in the postseason, the Hurricanes can look back to this game as a starting point, although they did like some of their previous efforts against the Flyers.
“This is a team that, from my memory, we’ve always had some good battles against,” said Cole.
“In three of the four games we played against that team we’ve played well,” said Maurice.