June 19, 2006. The most important day in Carolina Hurricanes history. Clinching a Stanley Cup on home ice in Game 7 is an indelible memory for every member of that team, as well as all fans of the organization. But what would have happened in this nip and tuck affair had Cam Ward not made the save of his life to deny Fernando Pisani of the game-tying goal with three minutes remaining in the final period?
Well, the sliding doors of this scenario can be wide-ranging because a goal by the bright-burning comet that was Pisani in those playoffs would have resulted in a deadlocked game, meaning Mr. Game Seven, Justin Williams, would not have skated freely for the empty-netter that resulted in the 3-1 score we remember so well. But in order to break down what happens if Cam Ward doesn’t make his career-defining save, we have to play a bit more of the what-if game below:
Pisani Scores, but the Canes Prevail...and its Brind’Amour, Again
So, in this scenario, Canes fans still have their precious Stanley Cup and an all-time memory, but instead of Ward’s save and the Williams empty-netter, they would continue to toast some wonderful goal scorer, possibly in Overtime, who fired the shot heard round the hockey world to deliver a championship to Raleigh. Obviously, this could have been nearly anyone on the ice that night, but for argument’s sake, let’s say that the winner was netted by the man who led the Canes in every sense of the word then (and literally now), Rod Brind’Amour.
Had Brind’Amour tallied what would have been his lucky 13th playoff goal, including a Stanley Cup clincher, it would seem safe to say that Captain Rod would have received even greater consideration and likely would have won the Conn Smythe Trophy instead of the award going to the rookie Ward. The cast of heroes would have been the same for Carolina fans, but the historical roles would have been slightly altered. One can only speculate, but with Brind’Amour’s virtually impeccable career, but conspicuous absence from the Hockey Hall of Fame, is it possible that adding the crown jewel of a Conn Smythe to his resume could have been enough to see him already enshrined?
Pisani Scores, and Edmonton Finds a Way
This is the scenario that gives Caniacs the shivers just to think about. What if Pisani squeaked it past Ward and the Oilers found a way to scoring the deciding goal thereafter?
For one, the bitter taste of blowing a 3-1 Stanley Cup Final lead with two contests at home would still be lingering in the mouths of Canes supporters. And with a serious dry spell (outside of 2009) following the championship, it is fair to question if the franchise’s position in Raleigh would be as stable as it is currently, had the story of the team’s history in North Carolina been largely based on the disappointment and defeat rather than one glorious night in mid-June.
And while winning has a way of covering up history, many fans would point back to the horrific misplay between Cory Stillman and Eric Staal that led to Pisani’s overtime winner in Game 5, the first opportunity for the Canes to bring the Cup home: heroes replaced with newly-fitted goat horns.
And it is important to note that Pisani would have most certainly ended up with the Conn Smythe in any scenario in which the Oilers won the Cup. With what would have been his 15th playoff goal, he would have gone down as one of the most unlikely postseason heroes (already has, but even more so), and he would never buy a drink in Edmonton for the rest of his life (that may already be happening too).
Ward’s Career Arc Changed?
With the game outcome forever changed with either of the two scenarios above, it is also interesting to try to determine how the removal of that save could potentially have had ripple effects on Cam Ward’s now-completed career in Carolina. Without that seminal moment and Conn Smythe Trophy burned into our memories — not to mention Jim Rutherford’s — would the franchise icon have been as difficult to part with as he proved to be?
Without posting a solid season in net since 2011-12, would Ward have been kept around into his 30’s if he were merely “Cam Ward: Stanley Cup Winner” and not CAM WARD: CONN SMYTHE AWARD WINNER, CUP WINNER, AND OMG DO YOU REMEMBER THAT SAVE!”?
I believe that parting with Ward would have become a much easier proposition as the Canes moved forward had Ward not been the Conn Smythe winner, no matter if the Hurricanes won the Cup or not. Management was even able to let go of Eric Staal before removing Ward from the roster, which is evidence to the great loyalty and responsibility felt towards Ward.
Perhaps that doesn’t change much about the Hurricanes’ results in the past few seasons. Perhaps Ward would have been more rejuvenated with a mid-career change of scenery, similar to Staal in Minnesota the past two seasons. But one thing is for certain, the career of Cam Ward would have likely taken a different path had he not flashed that left pad in front of the net-driving Fernando Pisani.
In the end, the play that played a major part in securing the Hurricanes’ only Stanley Cup did more than that. It helped shape the future of many careers, including that of Ward himself. And there is only one person who likely thinks about that play more than Ward, and that is most assuredly Fernando Pisani.