It's a new day and last night's euphoria was not a dream. The Carolina Hurricanes are advancing to the second round of the playoffs and the New Jersey Devils are done for the season. But for most of the third period of last night's deciding game, it looked like the opposite would be true. The Devils were in control. They had the lead in the third period, a place where they had been very successful, if not almost perfect, in the past. But with the blink of an eye, that all changed.
The Hurricanes did not play their best game last night. They made way too many errors for a game seven. There were defensive breakdowns, offensive turnovers, and they failed to take advantage of a crucial 5-on-3 opportunity. Still, they never gave up.
After an excruciating sequence where Joni Pitkanen, Sergei Samsonov, Rod Brind'Amour, Jussi Jokinen, and Tim Gleason struggled mightily to keep the puck in the zone while working it for a shot, Gleason dove to keep the puck in one more time, somehow got it to Pitkanen who then placed a beautiful cross ice pass to Jokinen, and the Finn tied the score up with a perfect one-timer.
Cam Ward had been looking to the bench to see if he should come off the ice at the time, but Coach Maurice said afterwards that he felt the line was too tired because it had been out there over a minute and did not want to leave the goal empty just yet. He was hoping for a line change.
Of course the rest is history. Eric Staal skated in the Jersey zone with more open ice than he had all game and wristed a sick shot past Marty Brodeur for the game winner. It was the fifth goal of the series for Staal.
After the game, Jokinen gave a shout-out to his home town of Oulu, Finland and mentioned that he and Pitkanen had been making that play since they were 14 years old.
Carolina's own "Team Finland" contributed with another goal earlier in the affair. Tuomo Ruutu opened the scoring with a perfectly placed shot which hit the post and went in the net, just a minute into the contest. But the Devils would score twice later in the period to take a lead into the first intermission.
Ray Whitney would tie the score early in the second from a feed by Eric Staal, but the Devils once again took the lead back after a turnover by Patrick Eaves and a blast by Brian Rolston.
The Devils were held scoreless in the third period thanks to multiple saves by Cam Ward who ended up making 32 stops on the night.
Hall of Fame radio play-by-play voice, Chuck Kaiton, said that he had never seen an ending like this one in his 30 years of NHL announcing. We will try to get a recording of his call for the last two minutes. It's priceless.
Would anyone have imagined in their wildest dreams a year ago or more, that Chad "the Chuck Norris of hockey" LaRose would be playing on the Hurricanes number one line with their best players, Ray Whitney and Eric Staal, in a game seven scenario? What a story he has become.
Cam Ward was "the man" again. He outplayed Martin Brodeur in this game, as well as for the series. Did the hockey gods frown on "King Brodeur's" stick throwing incident after game four? Karma can be cruel.
Jim Rutherford's deadline trade for Erik Cole got all the headlines, but the quiet trade that brought Jussi Jokinen to Raleigh for two unused players and a late round pick has helped turn the season around for the Canes. Jokinen is the gift that keeps on giving and Carolina does not win this series without him.
Dennis Seidenberg once again led the team with five blocked shots. He has been a leader in the category all season long.
Chad LaRose had the most hits with four. Erik Cole was next with three. Tuomo Ruutu, who normally delivers the big hits, was on the receiving end of two vicious ones, the first by Johnny Oduya and the next one later in the game by Patrik Elias. Ruutu was groggy after getting boarded by Elias, but it looks like he is okay. We will know more tomorrow.
Carolina jumps from the frying pan into the fire as they take on Boston next. But the Bruins would be wise not to underestimate the Canes because this is not the same team they swept earlier in the season. More about that later!