WASHINGTON — All season, the Carolina Hurricanes refused to lose, refused to be told that their best wasn’t going to be good enough. All season, they defied the odds, going on a miracle run to get to this point, earning a Game 7 against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.
That run will continue, after a heart-stopping 4-3 double-overtime win at Capital One Arena on Wednesday night, eliminating the Capitals and sending the Hurricanes through to the second round, where they will face the New York Islanders in the second round beginning Friday. All four division champions in the 2018-19 season were eliminated in the first round, and it was the Hurricanes - the Carolina Hurricanes! - administering the knockout blow.
In four games in the nation’s capital, the Hurricanes never held a lead, over the span of thirteen full periods and two additional others. Until they did, when it counted, at the death in Game 7. Just like everyone expected.
As they’ve done the entire series, the Capitals jumped out to an early lead at home. Andre Burakovsky got on the board 2:13 into the game after an unforced turnover by Brett Pesce gifted the puck to Burakovsky just to the left of Petr Mrazek. Four minutes later, Tom Wilson doubled the lead four minutes later, thanks to an insane show by Alex Ovechkin along the boards. First, the Caps captain undressed Dougie Hamilton along the boards. Then, he dragged the puck around Jaccob Slavin, and dished to Wilson for an easy tap-in.
Just before Wilson’s goal, Sebastian Aho couldn’t elevate the puck over Braden Holtby’s pads and was shut down trying to go five-hole to tie the game. It was a telling reminder that the Hurricanes had been completely outplayed in first periods in this building, outscored 8-1 over the four games in the District.
It was Aho, though, who pulled the game back to within one for the first time. With Jordan Martinook in the penalty box for hooking, Aho and Teuvo Teravainen turned the jets on to create a 2-on-1. Aho’s initial shot was easily saved by Holtby, but the rebound came right back to him and he took advantage of a rare miscue by the Capitals goaltender to sneak the puck through the five-hole.
Evgeny Kuznetsov restored the two-goal lead three and a half minutes later, finishing off a 3-on-1 after the Hurricanes’ defense completely broke down, but for the second game in a row Teravainen got on the scoresheet to pull Carolina back to within a goal again. This one wasn’t as pretty as his goal on Monday in Raleigh, but he took advantage of a broken play along the boards and got Holtby leaning the wrong way to make it 3-2 after two periods.
And then Staal knotted the game up, sending the home crowd into silence while prompting jubilation on the Carolina bench.
Jaccob Slavin, who had been separated from the demoted Dougie Hamilton late in the second period, caught the Capitals in a bad line change, and passed it off the boards to Staal streaking up the right wing. Staal settled the puck and wired a wrister that had echoes of his brother’s goal ten years ago that won a Game 7 over New Jersey - same spot on the ice, same target, same result.
The Hurricanes, so lethargic to start the game, figured things out after Staal’s goal. All of a sudden, they were forechecking with purpose, won battles on the boards, and kept Mrazek’s crease mostly clear. In a way, it was a season in miniature, the Hurricanes slowly turning up the pressure and looking to peak at crunch time.
And with 2:20 to go, the Hurricanes dodged a gigantic bullet when Tom Wilson nearly beat Mrazek, who kicked the puck backwards toward his cage before Brock McGinn cleared it off the goal line. The home crowd was ready to erupt, but the Hurricanes had averted disaster - barely - and pushed the game into the extra session for the first time in a Game 7 since Scott Walker’s memorable goal in 2009 that eliminated the Bruins.
The tension increased. Aho tipped a shot into Holtby’s chest. Warren Foegele toe-dragged around Nick Jensen and Holtby just got a glove on it. Nino Niederreiter nearly ended it with a backhand around Holtby. Carolina was coming up aces to begin the overtime session, but they couldn’t end it.
Six minutes in overtime, the Hurricanes had outshot the Capitals 8-0, but had nothing to show for it. Things were starting to follow a familiar, unsettling pattern. Kuznetsov almost ended it, somehow tipping it just wide with 7:30 gone and with Mrazek heading the wrong way. Slavin almost gift-wrapped the game winner with a suicide pass right up the slot that Wilson easily intercepted with 9:00 to go but the Canes dodged it yet again when Wilson’s pass for Nicklas Backstrom was tipped away.
The Hurricanes had a loud argument to earn a power play with 7:40 to go when Brett Connolly looked like he had cleared the puck into the seats from just inside the blue line, but no penalty was whistled. The game devolved into a tight-checking game as Rod Brind’Amour shortened his bench, partly by necessity with the absence of Jordan Martinook who did not take a shift after the end of regulation.
Ovechkin nearly ended it with two minutes left, wiring a one-timer from the right circle after the puck popped out from along the boards. But Mrazek - or, more specifically, his mask - kept the game going, somehow. A few seconds later Aho whiffed on a one-timer on choppy ice off a pass from Lucas Wallmark with an exhausted Brooks Orpik back defending, in what could have been the Canes’ best chance to end it to that point.
And in a stomach-turning bit of deja vu, Saku Maenalanen was whistled for delay of game with 2:02 gone in the second overtime. The much-maligned Hurricanes penalty kill, though, came up huge, and kept the game going. Jakub Vrana beat Mrazek with five minutes elapsed, but the post was the Canes’ best friend, coming to the rescue.
And finally, at 11:05 of the second overtime, McGinn was the hero, tipping home a shot from - who else? - Mr. Game 7 himself, Justin Williams, sending the Hurricanes into the second round, eliminating the Capitals, and finishing off a remarkable comeback.
They Said It
I don’t know what else to say about this group. I’ve been saying it all year. They just don’t quit. To me, from game 1 of the regular season, when it felt like we were dialed in and didn’t get the results, the guys just believed in what we were doing. I know it’s cliche, but it’s so true. We’ve got great leadership, and the whole time you saw it come through. Just really proud of this group. This is special. It’s a special group, and I’m just glad to be a part of it.
They just kept battling back. We get a shorty to get us in the game, then they come back and score. There was no letdown. It was nice to know everyone contributed, your big guys stepped up when they had to, but you’ve got to have that. In overtime it looked like we were going. We were making plays, we had a lot of chances, Holtby was playing great. It was one of those where you get all the action and they go down and put one in. I think we deserved that.
The break we got was the shorthanded goal. It was kind of weird how it went in. It broke the ice for us. Even though they got the third one, it was OK, we were able to score. We have come back against them here in the past, obviously we didn’t win earlier, but it was comforting to know. The guys felt like we could score, and if we got to our game - which we hadn’t done up to that point. We were talking with the coaches; I didn’t know what we were watching. And then all of a sudden for whatever reason it started clicking.
[The PK] did a great job. Obviously they have a tremendous power play. We knew coming in that was going to be the deal, and in the games they won here they were dominant. We had to figure out a way to shut it down. Not taking too many penalties was key. I don’t know if it was adjustments as much as just doing what we were supposed to do. When you have a high-end team you’re playing against, even if you do what you’re supposed to do, they still make plays. We didn’t want to go down like the first game, where it was too easy. The whole thought process was, if they’re going to score, make it look good, make them earn it.
[The first part of the game] was ugly. To me, I go back to where it’s 2-0 and they get a power play. If they score, it’s done. Then we get the shorthanded, and it just perked everybody up. We’re still in the game. We got better as we went along. In overtime it was like “here we go, this is how we’re supposed to look”. Again, I’m really proud of the group.
When I played, I didn’t take enough time to enjoy it. I was always chasing the Stanley Cup, always chasing...you have to keep getting better. You miss the moments. I’ve been trying to tell the guys, you have to enjoy everything we’re doing. You have to take time to enjoy it. We work so hard, and you only get so many cracks at this, and so many cracks to create memories. This is one that we’ll take forever. These guys who played in that game tonight will remember that game forever. That’s special. I’m trying to enjoy it too, because I kind of missed it the first time around. I didn’t miss it, but you know what I mean. I should have taken a little more time to enjoy it, because it’s special.
[McGinn] has been great. He’s a Hurricane. He does it the way we want out of our players, and he doesn’t get any credit. Nobody talks about him, but he’s a glue guy, and we have a lot of those on our team. This time of year those are the guys that can really be the difference.
That was a hard, hard-fought series. It can go either way, right, in overtime of Game 7. We pushed each other as far as we could go this game. Fortunately we got the big goal by Brock. It feels unbelievable.
In overtime you just try to recycle everything you’ve done throughout the game. We started every overtime fresh, getting pucks in, because when you get tired and the body gets tired you have a tendency to make mistakes. You can put pressure on them, that’s when mistakes happen, turnovers happen, and when goals happen.
On the faceoff I tried to go forward, trying to hit Brock. They got possession of the puck and went around the boards, we stayed on it, and in overtime you just throw it at the net. Slavin threw it in the corner, I threw it at the net, and the hand-eye by Brock.
It doesn’t add to [a legacy]. Listen, I’ve been a part of some great teams. This is not my story, this is the Hurricanes’ story. I’m proud of every single one of our guys. But we’re not done.
[On Ovechkin:] There’s a mutual respect for competitiveness. You can kick the snot out of each other, then look at each other in the eye and say “man, that was a great series.” We pushed each other, and that’s why we play, right? To compete. We just expressed, I guess, that to each other.
We became relevant again this year. This is another step. It’s wide open for us. It’s wide open for every team. There’s eight left, and we’re going to keep pushing to see how far we can go.
[How were you able to rally after that first period?] I don’t really know. All season we’ve just been going, we’ve been having ups and downs, like in this series. In their building here it’s been tough for us. Again today we were down a couple goals and we just kept fighting. We believe that when we fight, and we put everything out there, it will pay off - and it did.
[Your reaction?] I just jumped and screamed. It was a pretty crazy moment. So nice to see the puck go in.
I saw the puck coming, and I was trying to battle. I thought there was some defense on it. Whenever I got control, I just shot it right away. I’m just happy it went in.
[On the PK:] It’s great to be out there. The other team has the best players on the ice, and you’re trying to not let them score, so it’s pretty crazy. We’ve done a pretty good job with that. It’s kind of something new for me, but I feel like I’m pretty confident out there.
We’ve battled so hard all year, and just to get rewarded like that is an awesome feeling. I don’t think anything went through my mind, I was just too excited. We’ve battled for so long in the last couple months, I felt like we were already playing playoff hockey. For this to go to Game 7, two overtimes, it’s a pretty awesome feeling.
I think all four games in this building we had pretty slow starts. As the game went along we got to our game and started to build it. I think, coming into this dressing room in between each period we were getting a little more confident, and we were just trying to get pucks toward the net. Fortunately we were able to get it in. Willy kind of threw it there, I was just with my stick on the ice, and fortunately it was able to get off my stick and in the net.
[On clearing the puck out of the crease:] I think it’s just a reaction. I saw it kind of sneak through Petr, I don’t know if it had enough steam to cross the line but I don’t think I was taking that chance. It was big for our team and we just have to keep putting our best foot forward.
I don’t know if anything went through my head. I was just too excited. Everybody was just so joyful and happy for each other. We’ve battled for so long, and coming out on top was great.
[The biggest key:] Believe. We trust ourselves. We knew we were going to turn this over. Great team effort. Obviously the start wasn’t the one we wanted, but an unbelievable job there to stick with it.
We had one plan going into the second period: we wanted to win the period. That goal [the SHG] helped us get there and forget the first period, try to win the second period. That was a big goal.
[Mrazek] has been unreal. I’ve been saying this pretty much every interview, he’s been that good all year. He’s unbelievable. He’s so good.
So much fun. It wasn’t fun the first five minutes, I’ll tell you that, but as the game went along I think we came back in the second period, pushed hard, and got rewarded for it.
When Turbo scored the second goal, we got back, talked about it in the dressing room after the second period, and win the period. That was what we did. It was important for the win tonight.
The game’s long. They had the momentum, but we stuck with the plan and in the second period came up big. That was probably the longest game I’ve played. I was so excited when I saw the puck go in. I was so tired, it was the best.