by Kate Shefte
The most unfortunate part of the Carolina Hurricanes' faceplant in the Eastern Conference Finals is that in the grand scheme of the 2009 playoffs, despite their fantastic comebacks and thrilling upset victories, the ‘Canes turned out to be nothing but a skid mark on the padded shorts of the Pittsburgh Penguins on the way to their second straight cup finals berth.
But forget that. This postseason was better than Hurricane fans had any right to expect. Midway though the year, it looked as though Carolina wouldn’t even make the playoffs for the third straight year. Paul Maurice completely turned this team around and should be rewarded with a contract this summer. The ‘Canes took off in the latter half of this season and was one of the hottest teams in the league headed into the playoffs.
“We can be proud of the fact that we found a way, when things weren’t going our way and we were fighting to make the playoffs, that we made it to the third round,” Ward said. “We’re disappointed, but we can be proud of the fact that we were one of the last four teams. Who knows when you’ll have another opportunity like this.”
The New Jersey Devils, winners of the Atlantic division, were ready to wipe the floor with the six-seed ‘Canes. It was not only predicted, but expected. The least the Hurricanes could do was make it a good series and send Triangle fans home happy, right? As we all know, that didn’t happen. The ‘Canes finished the Devils in seven, coming from behind in the final two minutes of the final game and shattering numerous records.
Okay okay, the upset thing is pretty cute. But the Boston Bruins? You’ve must be kidding. Not only did they sweep the ‘Canes convincingly during the regular season, but they swept the Habs in the first round and were favorites to win the cup. Many predicted that this series wouldn’t go to five, let alone seven games. Beantown’s most hated, Scotty Walker, scored his first playoff goal in overtime in Game 7 to put the ‘Canes in the Eastern Conference Finals. The spring of 2009 was officially magical.
“I’ve played a long time in the league, and this was one of the closest teams I’ve ever been on,” Walker said. “That makes a difference when things get tough.”
Sure, the ending wasn’t fun. The Hurricanes bit it hard against the faster, more offensively gifted Penguins. The Pittsburgh defense was surprisingly exceptional and their offense and special teams continued to dazzle. The 2003 first overall pick, Marc-Andre Fleury, overcame a shaky postseason start to stuff the Hurricanes left and right while the second overall pick, Eric Staal, picked the worst possible time to have his torrid pace halted. The Carolina defense was simply porous and Cam Ward did not clean up shop behind them.
“Pittsburgh played really well. I don’t think we had a lot left in the tank, to be honest. We spent a lot to get here and to learn a lot to get here,” Mo said. “Just reading faces when they’re coming back to the benches, we spent an awful lot.”
This series was one to forget. Sure, history will remember the 2008-2009 Hurricanes as a brief karmic speed bump on the Penguins’ quest for glory, but I beseech ‘Canes fans and other NHL fans alike to remember two of the best series in recent memory, which came courtesy of “that team in the South that won the cup a few years back.”
Would Boston or New Jersey have fared any better against these Penguins? Who knows – or cares. Excuse me for going sentimental on your for a second, but these 'Canes played their hearts out. That's all you can ask for in the sports world.
We’ll keep you updated over the summer regarding the trade deadline, the inevitable rash of post-playoff surgeries, contract extensions, ect. Jim Rutherford’s faith in his player recycling system has undoubtedly been restored, so Jesse Boulerice, Bates Battaglia, David Tanabe and Arturs Irbe – we’ll see you guys soon. Thank you for reading and commenting.