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Systems Analyst Classics: The Molson Miracle

Down 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Carolina would rally from three goals down to even the series, forever etching a classic comeback into Hurricanes’ history.

Hurricanes v Canadiens Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images/NHLI

On May 9, 2002 the Carolina Hurricanes entered into one of hockey’s toughest buildings, the Molson Centre, trailing the Montreal Canadiens two games to one in their best of seven second round series.

After a sluggish first period start, which saw his team trail 2-0, Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice pulled starting goaltender Kevin Weekes and inserted Arturs Irbe to begin the second frame. The Canes played better, but still trailed by two when the Canadiens would head to a power play halfway through the period.

On the man advantage, Doug Gilmour walks out from behind the goal line and finds Sergei Berezin camped out back door to put Montreal up 3-0.

As defenseman Glen Wesley rotates to play Gilmour, Sean Hill is just a second too late recovering on Berezin, and the Russian winger capitalizes.

To make an already monumental uphill climb even more daunting was the man manning the Montreal goal, Jose Theodore. Theodore had posted an astronomical .931 save percentage through the regular season and was on his way to capturing not only the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie, but the Hart Trophy as league MVP as well.

Through the second period of game four the Canes had managed to score just three goals in 11 periods of action against Theodore and would now need three in a single period just to force the game into overtime.

The Canes would finally break through and beat Theodore early in the third on a two man advantage. Sami Kapenen and Ron Francis play catch on the right wing boards before Francis lays a precise pass into Hill’s wheelhouse for a one-timed bomb.

Francis is one of the best passers in hockey history and with all of the space available on a 5-on-3 Francis’ immense skill paid big dividends for the Canes. From the back camera angle, pictured below, the subtleties of Francis’ movement are on full display.

First, as Bates Battaglia passes to Kapenen and drives towards the middle of the ice, Francis pops wider into the corner and gives Kapenen an easy passing lane through the space vacated by Battaglia. Then, notice how Francis uses his puckhandling efficiently to deceive the high Canadiens penalty killer, Joe Juneau.

When he first receives the pass, Francis looks towards Hill and brings his stick blade across his body. Upon seeing this Juneau takes away the pass with his stick. Quickly, Francis makes one subtle stickhandle towards the boards, indicating a potential return pas to Kapenen. Juneau bites, sliding his stick towards Kapenen’s lane and opening up just enough space for Francis to find Hill before Juneau can fully recover with his stick.

Nine minutes later the Hurricanes would draw within one off of a Bates Battaglia slap shot.

The Canadiens have possession and appear to be ready to exit the zone, but a well-timed pinch from defenseman Marek Malik disrupts the breakout. The respective centermen each have a chance at the loose puck and as Gilmour flies by with one hand on his stick, Rod Brind’Amour stops on the puck and holds the line and makes the quick cross ice feed to Battaglia who corrals it and steps into a drive.

Erik Cole is key here, driving the net and legally interfering (just about everything was “legal interference” before the rule changes of 2005) with the Montreal defenseman, Karl Dykhuis looking to challenge Battaglia.

Once Dykhuis does get around Cole, he gets his stick in Battaglia’s shooting lane, but not enough to send the puck wide or out of play. Instead the puck deflects of of Dykhuis’ stick and by Theodore.

Even with the spirited comeback, Carolina would still find themselves down a goal with less than a minute to play in the third. With Irbe on the bench for the extra attacker, Maurice sent out five forwards, accompanied by Hill, to try to even the score.

Hill takes another one-timer, but this one fails to reach the net. Instead Battaglia tracks it down and just flings it towards the goal. A scramble ensues in the net mouth and Cole is seemingly the only person able to locate the puck. He deposits it for the equalizer.

Cole had been tied up with Montreal defenseman Sheldon Souray, but when Battaglia throws the puck towards the goal, Carolina uses its extra attacker to outnumber Montreal. As seen in the clip below, Souray abandons Cole to clean out Francis and prevent the Hurricanes’ captain from getting a whack in. It actually works and the puck sits nicely in front of Theodore, but the goaltender fails to locate the puck and Cole drags it towards the gaping right side of the net.

Cole initially fumbles the loose puck, but has time to recollect it and score before a Montreal defender can stop him.

The Cole goal would send the game to sudden death overtime and eventually birth the legend of “The Secret Weapon,” Niclas Wallin.

Off of an offensive zone faceoff, Jeff O’Neill beats Bill Lindsay clean, winning the puck back to Wallin. With Martin Gelinas running another legal interference play, the Montreal winger tasked with getting in Wallin’s shooting lane is slowed down. Theodore never sees Wallin’s shot through the O’Neill screen and the Hurricanes have evened the series.

After losing the draw clean, Lindsay hits the deck in order to block Wallin’s shot attempt, but the Swedish defenseman puts it just over Lindsay and the seeing-eye shot finds its way home.

In the clip below, O’Neill’s clean faceoff win is perhaps better explained by a poor drop of the puck from the linesman. The puck is dropped favoring the Hurricanes’ center and may even hit O’Neill’s stick on the way to the ice. Instead of the play being blown dead and the puck re-dropped, the Hurricanes take advantage of the good fortune and complete the comeback to win 4-3.

The overtime winner would be the first of three in Wallin’s Hurricanes career. After game four Carolina would not lose again in the series, eliminating Montreal in six games before knocking off the Toronto Maple Leafs on the way to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final appearance.

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

In the next Systems Analyst Classics, we’ll take a look at the Canes’ last second comeback against the New Jersey Devils in Game 2 of the 2006 Eastern Conference Semifinals.