RBC CENTER, RALEIGH—Rod Brind’Amour brought the crowd to their feet to honor his brilliant, gutsy career. A bit later, Erik Cole did the same with a brilliant, gutsy goal.
Brind’Amour’s number 17, newly installed in the RBC Center rafters, inspired the Carolina Hurricanes to play an exceptional game, beating the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 before a larger-than-capacity crowd that nearly brought the banner back down when Cole scored the winner with just three minutes remaining.
In 2002, when the Hurricanes made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals before falling to the Detroit Red Wings, Brind’Amour and Cole formed the hard-nosed “BBC Line” with Battaglia. On Friday night, however, Cole was centered by Eric Staal, Brind’Amour’s successor as captain. Staal made a Brindy-like play, wresting the puck from a scrum on the boards to start Cole and Jussi Jokinen on a 2-on-1.
“It was a real good play by Eric,” Cole said about the decisive play. “In our own zone, won a battle on the wall and found Juice coming across. I was coming low—you know how aggressive that team is—if you can win those battles on the wall and make plays with it… Even if you have to chip it, sometimes, to speed, you can catch them. It was just a great pass by Juice.”
Great plays by the Hurricanes occurred in bunches in this contest. There was Chad LaRose’s goal, tipping a Joe Corvo point shot beneath Sergei Bobrovsky not five minutes in. There was Jeff Skinner’s goal a few minutes later, keeping the puck on a 2-on-1 with Jay Harrison and slapping it through Bobrovsky, prompting the Flyers to call timeout. After a sluggish game in New Jersey a few nights before, the Canes authored probably their best start of the year despite the delayed opening for the retirement ceremony.
Down 2-0, the Flyers started finishing every check in an effort to rouse themselves to the level of the Hurricanes, and they appeared to pull it off, taking a few penalties in the process when their aggressiveness boiled over. The man advantage is, of course, supposed to be an advantage for the Canes, but the Flyers are the league’s best shorthanded team.
Three minutes into the second period, with Andreas Nodl in the box for hooking Jay Harrison, Blair Betts moved into the Canes’ zone, faked Corvo our in the circle, and beat Cam Ward’s glove to the far side to pull the Flyers to within a goal.
To add insult to injury, Jussi Jokinen was flat-out robbed by a standup save by Bobrovsky as the power play ended.
The Flyers surged on the shorthanded goal and hemmed the Canes in repeatedly throughout the rest of the second period. But Cam Ward took over for a while.
Ward foiled Jeff Carter three times in rapid sequence. Carter caught the defenders flatfooted and swooped diagonally through the slot, but Ward’s pad made him shoot wide of the post. The puck moved to him once he came back out front but his slap shot was deflected aside by the Canes’ goalie. Finally, off a rebound sequence, Carter jabbed at the puck from the side of the net, but Ward’s pad again held its ground.
But none of those was Ward’s best save.
After Jiri Tlusty went to the box for interference with about eight minutes left in the period, the Flyers applied tremendous pressure. Ward ended up flat on his back from a hectic sequence in the slot. The puck came out to the side to a solitary Matt Carle. Carle flung it at the heart of the Carolina net, but Ward jabbed his glove hand into the air and snared the puck.
Primed, the crowd broke out the standing ovation again.
It wasn’t a lucky save or a random save. Ward, from his back, was tracking the puck, and even waited until Carle shot to raise his arm. It was the kind of save that deserves a nickname. Perhaps “The Carle Save,” or “The Brindy-Night Save.” Or something short and simple: “The Grab.”
The save energized the crowd and the team, and the Canes drew two penalties on one play—the second of which was drawn on a lengthy delayed call that Staal earned by prying the puck out of Bobrovsky’s glove with his stick blade to continue play—to earn a full two-minute 5-on-3 advantage with three minutes left in the period.
Incredibly, the Canes barely generated a single chance on the two-man advantage. Coach Paul Maurice even spent a timeout at a stoppage to try to calm the team, but they were nervous and disorganized, skating the puck into coverage, dumping it when they had room to skate into the Flyer zone. It was an unnerving, excruciating passage in the game, fortunately followed by the second intermission.
The third period was hectic as both teams regrouped. After a Tuomo Ruutu penalty, both Tim Gleason and Patrick Dwyer blocked hard Chris Pronger point shots with their shins. Then, as Ruutu came out of the box, Cole found room to barge in on Bobrovsky but could not release a good shot, not knowing that Ruutu was available, trailing the play.
Then, with just over five minutes left, the Flyers tied it. After almost untrackable sequence of plays in the slot and crease, the puck came out to Braydon Coburn. His shot avoided all the bodies to tie the game.
This set up the winning goal just two minutes later from the Canes’ top line. The fans in the lower level did not resume sitting for the remainder of the game, watching the Flyers fail to convert several decent chances with the extra attacker in the final minute.
Coupled with losses on the evening by the Rangers and Sabres, the Hurricanes made a good move in the league standings with the win. They'll get right back onto the ice Saturday night when the Devils visit, affording Carolina the opportunity to play the kind of game they took to the Flyers against the team that has beaten them twice in the last stretch of the year.
Brind'Amour beamed to the media in a scrum during the first intermission, when the Canes led 2-0. He discussed the ceremony, which had many great moments. Brindy was nervous, though, shifting rapidly from foot to foot.
After a video montage of his career highlights played on the Jumbotron, Brind'Amour joked to the crowd, “What stood out in that video was, when I started my career, I actually had a straight nose that I could breathe out of.”
Then he turned serious to talk about the Stanley Cup championship of 2006. “I can honestly tell you that you guys willed us to victory many times that season. And especially in game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals, when you came out and you all stood the whole game you didn’t let us let up for one second in that game. And I’m pretty sure that you were not going to let that Stanley Cup out of this building without the Carolina Hurricanes name stamped on it.”
Downshifting to humor again, he told about the day after he'd been traded to Carolina from the Flyers in 2000. When he asked the desk clerk at the hotel he was staying in when the best way to get to the ESA (the original name of the RBC Center) was, the clerk said he'd never heard of it. When Rod reminded him that the Carolina Hurricanes played there, the clerk said he'd never heard of that either. It made Brind'Amour wonder what kind of hockey town this Raleigh was, anyway.
Brindy then consoled his father, razzing him about not having an all-access pass to nag the players in the locker room after the game anymore, and not being able to go on the team’s father-son road trip.
At the end of his speech, the ultimate player turns his back on the podium to face both benches, delivering a line that really exemplifies the drive that he brought to the rink for more than twenty years: “Never take a day in this league for granted.”
Before they raised his banner to the rafters, the Stanley Cup was brought out to witness the event. Some 18,000 screaming fans tried to will Brind'Amour to hoist it over his head one last time, for old time's sake.
But Brind’Amour didn’t touch it.
He hadn’t earned it, tonight.
And this player earned everything he got.