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Tuesday's Top Ten: Hurricanes Playoff Games

Every Tuesday from now until the beginning of the regular season I'll do my best David Letterman impression and put together a unique top ten list about our beloved Canes. Last week I listed the Top Ten Ex-Cane "Role Players." This week I haven't been able to stop thinking some of the great postseason moments in Hurricanes history so I thought it would be the perfect topic for this week's countdown.

For such a short life in the NHL, the Hurricanes have certainly made an impact in the history books. There have been five trips to the postseason, four Game 7's, three Southeast Division titles, two Eastern Conference championships, and one big Stanley Cup. Even in years that the Canes seemed average during the season, teams know they are extremely tough to eliminate come playoff time.

As I began to pick out great playoff games, my list grew to over 15 games. Needless to say, this was quite a tough compilation to compose. Feel free to comment and tell me where I went wrong and what I left off.

More after the jump.

10. June 1, 2006 - Eastern Conference Finals, Game 7

The Buffalo Sabres and the Carolina Hurricanes had battled to a seventh and final game and no game came easy. Besides a lopsided 4-0 Carolina victory in Game 4, every game had been decided by one goal and the past two had gone to overtime. Carolina had a chance to clinch the series in Buffalo two nights earlier, but Daniel Briere scored a fluky goal off Cam Ward's glove to send the series the distance.

The Hurricanes found themselves up 1-0 after the first period after a Mike Commodore shot ricocheted off two Sabres and behind Ryan Miller. That feeling wouldn't last long as Buffalo would go on to take a 2-1 lead off a wraparound by Jochen Hecht with five seconds to go in the second period. The fans were tense throughout the arena, but the players in the locker room were confident they could get it done.

"Alright, we dug ourselves another hole, but we're the best team in the league in the third period," Doug Weight said. "It's the same story that's said in between periods. It's almost like you smile when [Peter Laviolette] is saying it, but he comes in and says 'We're gonna get it done, let's do it'."

Weight, acquired weeks before the trade deadline, would prove to be a key piece to the puzzle as he scored early in the third period to tie the game and take the momentum. A powerplay goal by captain Rod Brind'amour gave the Canes the lead and Justin Williams roofed in a backhand shot in the final minutes to preserve the Hurricanes second trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. 

9. April 24, 2002 - Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game 5

The Hurricanes began the 2002 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the same team that knocked them out of the postseason just last year, the New Jersey Devils. The Canes came out and stole the show at home, taking both games by 2-1 scores. When the series shifted to New Jersey, it was another story. The Devils pounded the Hurricanes by a combined score of 7-1. This set up a monumental Game 5 back in Carolina. 

After a scoreless first period, Bobby Holik found a seam through goalie Kevin Weekes to make it 1-0. After Marty Gelinas tied the score, the Devils used some quick passing to find winger Patrick Elias alone in front of the net. Elias tipped the puck between Weekes' pads and gave the Devils another lead. As time clicked down to the final two minutes, it seemed as if the Devils were, once again, going to dash the Canes dreams of playoff success. That is, until Jeff O'Neill found a loose puck by Martin Brodeur's feet and shoved it in to tie the game. 

It took a little over eight minutes for Josef Vasicek to find a loose puck in the slot and flick it at the outstretched Brodeur. That shot would rifle into the top of the net and in to give the Hurricanes a 3-2 win and a 3-2 series lead. Some mark this game as a turning point for the team during their magical run to the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals.

8. June 8-9, 2002 - Stanley Cup Finals, Game 3

Not many games are listed by two separate dates, but this one is. The Hurricanes had split the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Red Wings in Detroit, and they were looking to take advantage at home. A win either way would put each team in great position to win the Cup. The Red Wings were looking to continue to flex their muscles and bully over the Canes and Carolina was looking to play their system and capitalize on any Detroit mistake.

"Big Joe" Vasicek gave the Canes their first real lead of the series with a little over five minutes left in the first period after he out-waited goaltender Dominik Hasek and rang a shot inside the left post and in. Igor Larionov tied the game five minutes into the second period with both teams playing four-on-four. It looked like the final blow of the game when Ron Francis sprung Jeff O'Neill on a breakaway and he roofed his shot high glove from the faceoff circle. The crowd went nuts and it seemed destined for the Canes to win. However, Brett Hull tipped in a Nicklas Lidstrom shot past Arturs Irbe to knot the score at two with under two minutes remaining.

The Hurricanes faithful cheered on their Canes through three grueling overtimes before Larionov scored again 14:47 into the third overtime. It took six periods of hockey and 53 Red Wings shots to finally win the game and seemingly take a commanding series lead, despite it being only 2-1.

"I truely believe that if we had won that game, [the outcome of the series] would have been different," said then alternate captain Brind'amour.

While the Cup was not won that night, for all intents and purposes the Red Wings had claimed victory. The Hurricanes would only muster one more goal in the series and they looked like a deflated team. The pain from that game will always be felt by all the fans in attendance that night/morning and everyone (myself included) watching on TV.

7. May 21, 2002 - Eastern Conference Finals, Game 3

This game is one that will be remembered by Hurricanes fans for generations to come. Sometimes it's not even about the final score or the big hits or saves. Sometimes games are remembered by things that will never show up in the final statistics. Early on in the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Jeff O'Neill, the leading scorer in the playoffs for the Hurricanes at the time, took a puck directly in the eye. Normally a player would go back into the locker room for a little bit to get taped up and let the trainers evaluate it they could go back out to keep playing (see Steven Stamkos). But, on this night, O'Neill would stay on the bench so that he wouldn't miss a shift. The athletic training staff worked on him on the bench all night and of course the game went into overtime.

Sometimes games are remembered for those little things, but other times the stat sheet is important too. This was an instance in which both were memorable. O'Neill, still battling the pain and the swelling, took a loose puck in overtime and sniped a shot that beat Curtis Joseph on the glove side. The man who would be known as "The Eye of the Hurricane" had just given his team a 2-1 series lead and an emotional boost that would help propel them past the Maple Leafs and into the Finals.

6. June 5, 2006 - Stanley Cup Finals, Game 1

When looking at the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals on paper, it looked like a mismatch. The Carolina Hurricanes were actually the favorite after enjoying a 52-win, 112-point season. Their opponent had to rely on superb goaltending and timely goal scoring to even scrape into the playoffs as the 8th seed in the West, they were the Edmonton Oilers. It was a strange place to be in as a Hurricanes fan - the favorite trying to spoil the feel-good underdog story. 

As the first game of the final series opened up, the Hurricanes found out how the Oilers had gotten as far as they did. Edmonton roared out to a 3-0 lead midway through the second period (one of the goals included the first ever penalty shot goal by Chris Pronger) and the crowd began to get restless. It looked as if the Canes were going to be caught flat-footed this night, something fans hadn't seen since the first round against the Montreal Canadiens. However, a mystical thing soon happened.

At the 17:17 mark of the second period, Carolina's number 17, Brind'amour scored off a rebound to give the Canes life. In the third period, Ray Whitney scored twice to level the game at three and pump the crowd up. After Justin Williams took a bouncing puck in on a shorthanded breakaway and scored, the Canes had their first lead and the fans could feel the momentum turning and and imminent win approaching. The Oilers eventually answered back to tie the game, but the Oilers fate took a turn for the worse when Andrew Ladd was knocked into Edmonton goalie Dwayne Roloson and Roloson stayed down. Backup goalie Ty Conklin came in rusted and unproven. 

With less than a minute to play in regualtion, the game appeared to be headed for overtime. Until a puck came around the boards and Conklin went around to play it. Conklin shoveled the pass back to captain Jason Smith, but the two were not on the same page as the pass bounced off Smith's stick and right to Rod Brind'amour who promptly backhanded the puck into the open net. After a few Cam Ward saves sealed the deal, the Hurricanes could celebrate an ugly 5-4 win (but a win nonetheless).

Canes forward Cory Stillman might have summed it up the best. "That's the game. To get outplayed, to outplay. It's back and forth. That's just the way the game goes."

5. June 4, 2002 - Stanley Cup Finals, Game 1

Almost four years to the day before the Canes took on the Oilers for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, the Canes were taking on the Red Wings for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. It was almost the same story just with opposite scripts. The Canes were the underdogs, the team that didn't belong and were going to get swept. Fans held signs in Joe Louis Arena claiming it was a battle of "Future Hall of Famers vs. No Namers."

Sergei Fedorov started the scoring after he shot in a puck over Arturs Irbe, who was on his back due to two players on top of the little Latvian. Sean Hill leveled the game again with another powerplay blast past Dominik Hasek. After Kirk Maltby scored later in the second period, the Canes leading scorer had to answer back. Aaron Ward found Jeff O'Neill streaking down the middle of the ice on a breakaway. Proving to be a game of inches, the puck just squeaked free from Hasek and slid just enough over the goal line for the goal to stand. A scoreless third period resulted in something the Hurricanes had grown familiar with by this time - overtime. Just 58 seconds into the extra period, O'Neill found Ron Francis all alone in front of the net. A pass to Ronnie and the game was over. 

"It was always sort of a dream of mine to get this franchise to the Finals and to win the Cup," Francis said. "That was the first step of that process. It was a very exciting time and I think it gave us the belief that, hey, we could do this."

The Canes would go on to lose the series but they won the respect of the hockey world and, in particular, the Detroit Red Wings.

4. April 28, 2009 - Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game 7

When you're facing Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils in a Game 7, things usually don't go your way. When you happen to be down by a goal with under two minutes remaining in that Game 7, there's probably a 99.9% chance you are going home for the summer. As Lloyd Christmas would say, "So you're telling me there's a chance!" 

Indeed there was a chance and on this rare night the unthinkable happened. The Hurricanes, fresh off a 4-0 win over the Devils in Game 6 to stay alive, struck first on a fluky goal just outside the first of minute by Tuomo Ruutu. Brodeur looked rattled and the game was off to a great start for the Canes. However back-to-back Devils goals gave New Jersey a 2-1 lead after the first period. Ray Whitney scored to even the game at 2-2 but Brain Rolston boomed a powerful shot over Cam Ward for a 3-2 lead. That lead lasted late into the third period to the point where the Devils fans were counting down the final two minutes. That's when the Hurricanes .1% came into play.

It started with Tim Gleason. He dove to his knees to keep a bouncing puck onside. he then flipped a pass over to Joni Pitkanen. Pitkanen looked across the ice and saw his friend Jussi Jokinen waiting, open for a chance to tie the game. Joni flew a pass across and Jokinen made no mistake. The game was tied and the Devils fans were quite. Caniacs everywhere felt thankful to have overtime to look forward to. However there would be no overtime on this night as Gleason then found a streaking Eric Staal and fed him a pass. Staal flew into the zone and snapped a quick wrist shot past Brodeur in the same spot Ruutu had beaten him earlier. Unbelievable. The Hurricanes had snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat. Staal scored with only 32 seconds remaining in the game and the Hurricanes were moving on.

"This is as sweet as it comes," Ward grinned. "What a finish. It's hard to believe right now just because we were down 3-2 with only 2 minutes to go. How quickly things can change. That's why you never give up and play unitl the final buzzer."

3. May 9, 2002 - Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 4

"Throw everything but the kitchen sink." 

That was Ron Francis' message to his teammates before Game 4 against the Montreal Canadiens. Despite winning the first game of the series, the Hurricanes looked like they were in an awful place. The Canadiens were getting outplayed, yet still winning games. The Habs held a 2-1 series lead and their goalie Jose Theodore seemed unbeatable. The results from Games 2-3 were not good. Game 2 featured the Canes outshooting Montreal 46-16 only to be beaten 4-1. In Game 3 the score was closer, a 2-1 loss in overtime, but Carolina again outshot Montreal 34-20. Theodore looked untouchable and the series looked out of reach. So the only solution was to throw everything but the kitchen sink at Theodore and hopefully he would crack.

After two periods of Game 4, the Habs had a 3-0 lead and Theodore had stopped every cabinet, dish, cup and saucer that came his way. So the message changed.

"I guess the only thing we have left is the kitchen sink. Let's just try throwing that," Francis exclaimed.

The Canes began to unbolt the sink when they found themselves on a 5-on-3 powerplay. Sean Hill blasted a shot past Theodore to cut the deficit to 3-1. Fans and players knew it could be done and their feelings were reassured with just over seven minutes to go in the game. Bates Battaglia took a shot that glanced off a Canadien's stick and past Theodore to make it 3-2. Then with Irbe on the bench and an extra attacker on the ice, Erik Cole found a loose puck in front of the net and jammed it home to tie the game with less than a minute to go. In overtime, Jeff O'Neill, a winger, won a faceoff back to Niclas Wallin who snapped a shot past a screened Theodore to win the game.

The game will forever live on with fans as The Miracle at Molson, referring to the unlikely win at the Canadiens home rink, the Molson Center (now the Bell Center). It was also the birth of "Mr. Overtime" aka "The Secret Weapon" in Wallin.

2. May 14, 2009 - Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 7

The Canes had battled into the playoffs as the sixth seed in the East. Their work against the New Jersey Devils was long, hard and tiring. Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins were the top seed in the East and they breezed through the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens in a sweep. The Bruins had swept the Hurricanes in the regular season by a combined score of 18-6 and the series looked to be a mismatch. However, in true Canes fashion, they relished the role of underdog and even got a 3-1 series lead on the Bruins. Boston then seemed to wake up as they forced Carolina into their style of play in 4-0 and 4-2 beatings in Games 5 and 6 respectively. Game 7 would prove to be a tough, physical, gritty showdown in Beantown. 

Boston struck first after a controversial icing call led to a faceoff in the Carolina zone. During the icing, Boston goalie Tim Thomas left the crease (normally negating icing), however the linesman still enforced it. After a Boston faceoff win, Byron Bitz found a loose puck in front of a wide-open net and made no mistake in giving the Bruins a 1-0 lead. Rod Brind'amour answered back a few minutes later with a tip of a Dennis Seidenberg shot shot on the powerplay. The two teams battled toe-to-toe until the resurgent Sergei Samsonov took a bullet, cross-crease pass from Joni Pitkanen to slide the puck past the pad of Thomas to give the Canes a 2-1 lead. The lead seemed safe with Cam Ward dynamite in net and the defense playing up to it's potential, but tough guy Milan Lucic was left undefended in front of Ward and he roofed a shot past the helpless goalie to tie the game. This would set up overtime to decide who moved on and who stayed home; one goal with so much importance attached to it.

After huge saves by both Thomas and Ward, it looked as though the game was headed to a second overtime. Ray Whitney had other ideas. On a previous rush winger Scott Walker had the puck and an open shooting lane. Instead of taking the shot, he passed it off to the more proven playoff veteran in Whitney and the puck ended up fluttering wide. Whitney told Walker that instead of passing, he should never pass up such an open shot - you never know what might happen.

This time Whitney was the one rushing into the zone. He had an open shot and he took it. Thomas easily stopped the long slapper, but there was Scott Walker rushing toward the net. he connected with the puck in midair and swiped it in the net past Thomas to give the Canes a thrilling 3-2 overtime win and a chance to advance in the playoffs.

"I just went to the net and whacked one in," Walker said of his first career playoff goal. "Didn't take much skill."

Walker was promptly booed because of his altercation with then-Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward in Game 5, in which he punched him in the face - breaking an orbital bone. It would come out later that that punch was not only a result of his team losing in the game but of his wife's recent diagnosis of cervical cancer. Walker was in tears post-game and never leaked the information to the media until after the series was over. Walker will always be remembered as a loved Hurricane after a trade sent him to Washington.

1. June 19, 2006 - Stanley Cup Finals, Game 7

A game that will forever live on in the hearts of Caniacs. Everything about it seems like it was yesterday. The crowds screaming and standing the whole game, the announcers marveling at the return of Erik Cole last game after a hit broke hit neck in early March and the tension in the air so thick you could cut it with a skate. The Hurricanes were sitting pretty a few days ago. They had a 3-1 series lead with Game 5 at home; they had a powerplay in overtime to win the Stanley Cup. Then they had panic, they had desperation, they had fear of letting their moment slip away from them. Their 3-1 series lead quickly became a 3-3 tie and a Game 7 for the Stanley Cup. The Edmonton Oilers scored shorthanded in overtime to defeat the Canes at home and then trounced them 4-0 at Rexall Place in Game 6. 

As the Game 7 began, Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" still humming through the crowd's head, an exciting fear came over the crowd. Rod Brind'amour won the opening faceoff (every time he won that, the Canes won and every time he lost, so did the team) delighting the fans in red and white. Then the celebration let loose. Matt Cullen passed the puck off to a cutting Mark Recchi who centered out to defeseman Aaron Ward. Ward let a low slapshot go and it found it's way past replacement goalie Jussi Markkanen for a 1-0 lead just over a minute into the game. The TV audience could probably hear the collective sigh of relief of Canes fans.

In the second period, with the Canes on a powerplay, Frank Kaberle let a slapper go from the top of the circle that glanced off a diving Oiler defenseman and under Markkanen for a commanding 2-0 lead. As the third period began the Canes just needed to hold off a desperate Oilers team. Unfortunately that failed as playoff hero Fernando Pisani crashed the net and popped home a rebound to cut the lead to juts one goal. Then Cam Ward took over, making save after save to keep the Canes in the lead. With just over five minutes to play in the game, Pisani appeared to have the game tied, but Cam Ward defied human physics and stretched his pad out to deny him. Minutes later, with Markkanen on the bench, Eric Staal threw a loose puck out to Justin Williams who skated all the way down the ice to deposit the puck into the vacant net to make the game 3-1 and bring the Hurricanes their first Stanley Cup.

Oilers vs Hurricanes - 2006 finals, game 7 (via nyisless13)