With the 2020 NHL season on an indefinite hiatus, we here at Canes Country have decided that now would be a great time for the Systems Analyst column to revisit some of the defining moments in Carolina Hurricanes history. Some of the images may have a few less pixels, but the memories should be crystal clear. This week we’ll start with one of the Canes’ most memorable playoff victories: Game 7 in New Jersey on April 28th, 2009.
The Hurricanes opened the game by scoring the first goal just over a minute into the contest. A blind pass by the Devils into the slot leads to a turnover and an easy Carolina breakout in the form of centerman Matt Cullen. It looks like a normal, non threatening, two-on-two, until Cullen leaves the puck for winger Tuomo Ruutu who, as a left-hand shot, rips a surprising wrister far side past Martin Brodeur.
As the play develops through the neutral zone, Ruutu cuts across the ice and falls in behind Cullen, opening the lane for Joni Pitkanen to join the rush on the far wing. As Ruutu slows down, New Jersey backchecker Brian Gionta continues through the middle of the ice, as a backchecker is traditionally taught to do. Rarely, if ever, would a backchecker follow an opponent off the rush all the way to the boards, especially as high out as the tops of the circles. But the extra space gives Ruutu just enough time to release his shot and tally the game’s first goal.
As the game moved on, New Jersey would answer and eventually take the lead on a power-play bullet from Brian Rolston.
The Hurricanes’ penalty killers actually gather possession and carry the puck through neutral ice. But a blind drop pass from Patrick Eaves, becomes a turnover and with both Pitkanen and Jussi Jokinen joining the rush, the Devils quickly countered.
The long cross ice bank pass by Gionta was likely intended just to maintain possession, but the puck ricochets perfectly into space for Rolston to step into the slap shot as if it were the Hardest Shot contest at the Skills Competition.
The Devils would maintain their one-goal advantage through the second intermission and deep into the third period. Carolina was throwing everything at the net, but over 18 minutes into the final frame, they had still been unable to beat Brodeur for the equalizer.
With just a minute and a half to play and Cam Ward still in the net at the other end, Pitkanen tries to find Rod Brind’Amour on a back door play, but it is read well and intercepted by Devils defenseman Niclas Havelid and cleared to the point.
Notice that in the clip above, Pitkanen is stationary on the blue line, allowing the defenders to more easily stay in position and read the play.
The puck eventually bounces to Tim Gleason whose shot attempt is immediately blocked. Brind’Amour then corralls the loose puck and slides it back to Gleason who, as seen in the clip below, slides on his knees to hold the blue line and then moves the puck onto Pitkanen’s tape.
The keep in is fantastic, but what is often overlooked is the accuracy of Gleason’s pass. From his knees Gleason, who was playing in his first career playoff series, put the puck into an area where Pitkanen could continue his momentum down the wall and create the eventual passing lane to Jokinen for the game tying goal.
The pass from Gleason led Pitkanen down the wall. That movement stretches out and moves the New Jersey defenders, opening up the lane in the middle of the rink for the cross-ice, back door connection that had been picked off just seconds earlier.
Less than a minute later, with both teams seemingly content to play for overtime, Brendan Shanahan flips the puck to center, where it jumps his teammate’s stick and ends up on the tape of Gleason. Gleason turns the puck up ice to Chad LaRose, who leaves it for a streaking Eric Staal.
Staal bursts down the right wing boards and, from nearly the same spot as the Ruutu goal, beats Brodeur with a sneaky wrister far side, just above the pad and just below the blocker.
As the play develops in the neutral zone, as seen in the clip below, Andy Greene steps up to play LaRose. With his back turned towards the Devils’ zone, LaRose really isn’t a threat, but when Greene steps up to play him, it opens all kinds of space for Staal to continue his momentum down the wing. Furthermore, it creates a long ways to go to cover Staal for Greene’s defensive partner Mike Mottau. Mottau has to back in further than he would like rather than confront Staal right at the blue line.
Carolina would hold on in the remaining seconds to preserve their newfound lead and advance. The Hurricanes would go on to face the Boston Bruins, in a series that would feature another dramatic game 7 on the road, before bowing out in the Eastern Conference Finals.
If you are thinking of a classic Carolina Hurricanes moment you’d like to see featured in this column, tweet your idea @CanesCountry or email it to Hatchett.Ford@Gmail.com.