With the NHL officially set to return to action in the coming months, the Carolina Hurricanes have now qualified for the “postseason” in consecutive years for the first time since 2002. Today we’ll take a look back at how the Canes qualified for postseason play in 2009.
Late in the regular season Carolina played host to Pittsburgh in Raleigh. If the Canes could tally two points, they would punch their ticket to the playoffs. After 60 minutes of action the score was deadlocked at two.
Less than a minute into overtime the Hurricanes would go to work on a cycle in the Pittsburgh zone. Erik Cole pokes the puck free to the boards and gets away with holding Penguin defenseman Sergei Gonchar, allowing Eric Staal to collect the loose puck. Staal then glides towards the point and gives it up to defenseman Anton Babchuk on the blue line.
Staal’s pass is to Babcuk’s backhand and handcuffs the 6-foot-5 Ukrainian. With pressure coming from Sidney Crosby, Babchuk wisely just shovels the puck to open space for Joni Pitkanen to pursue.
Pitkanen retrieves the puck and wins a physical board battle with the hulking Brooks Orpik. The Finnish defenseman stuffs a wrap-around attempt into Marc-Andre Fleury.
The loose puck from the Pitkanen attempt goes behind the net and a falling Staal is able to get a stick on the puck and push it to the corner before Crosby gains possession.
As the puck floats up the boards, Babchuk charges in and holds the the zone, losing his stick in the process. After the initial pinch, Babchuk even makes a play on the puck with his skate to strip Evgeni Malkin and regain possession for the Hurricanes.
Staal cuts to the middle looking for a shooting lane, but Gonchar pokes the puck off his stick. The puck slides right to Ray Whitney, fresh off the bench in a line change for Cole. Whitney’s shot whistles wide and Staal attempts another wrap around which glides through the blue paint towards the far boards.
Whitney then wins the race with Crosby towards the loose puck and shows off some wizardry, niftily stickhandling away from Crosby and Malkin and feeding a slick backhand pass back to defenseman Tim Gleason. Gleason makes a quick D-to-D pass to Babchuk, who unleashes a howitzer to beat Fleury blocker side and send Carolina to the playoffs.
The clip below gives another look at Whitney’s silky mitts and slick passing. Gleason’s pass to Babchuk is precise and important. It is just in front of Babchuk’s body, perfectly on his forehand, which allows him to wind up and generate big time power as he steps into the bomb, even without a full backswing.
Babchuk is able to get the shot away before Malkin can get in the shooting lane and Staal uses Orpik to provide a terrific high screen on Fleury. As the shot is being released, the netminder leans and peeks to his left, around the traffic, allowing Babchuk’s shot to find the open space on Fleury’s right.