NEWARK, N.J. -- There are comebacks, and there are miracles, and there are those that might just be both and defy description anyway.
There's no easy way to say how or why the Carolina Hurricanes won Thursday. You can say only that they scored twice in the final 80 seconds to turn an impending Game 7 loss into a 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils and move on to the second round.
On a night when the Hurricanes were essentially eliminated from the playoffs midway through the second period, they somehow find themselves facing the Bruins in the Eastern Conference semifinals after eliminating the Devils for the third time in eight years.
All you could say was, what the heck just happened?
"You tell me," captain Rod Brind'Amour said. "It's amazing the [stuff] we can pull off sometimes. I don't know how we do it."
Jussi Jokinen scored with 80 seconds left and Eric Staal scored with 31.7 seconds to go and suddenly, the fans preparing to celebrate a resounding victory were suddenly silenced by one of the most dramatic comebacks ever.
Two goals 48 seconds apart, against the winningest goalie in NHL history, in a Game 7. You just can't make that up. And if you did, no one would believe you.
Devils forward Patrik Elias called it the toughest loss of his career, and Martin Brodeur, so infallible in Game 5, gave up two goals on wristers from the right wing, almost from the same spot -- to Ruutu a minute into the game and Staal on the winner.
"They found a way, like they always seem to do against us," Brodeur said.
In a series where goals were conceded grudgingly, when at all, the Canes scored twice under impossible circumstances to shock even themselves. Even after Jokinen's goal, from an angle so tight it was almost impudent, the Canes were preparing mentally for overtime, when Staal came streaking down the right wing and beat Brodeur on the far side.
In a series where the margin of victory has often been as narrow as the blade of a skate -- literally, given how Ray Whitney scored his goal, Carolina's critical second -- the Canes made enough mistakes to lose two playoff series, far too many to win a Game 7 on the road.
Yet they did, somehow, in an improbable victory that must rank somewhere up there with 2002's Miracle at Molson, the ice once again littered with the detritus of displeasure.
"Funny enough, Game 7, we haven't given up that many chances in the five games previous," Whitney said.
The Canes looked to have lost the game in the second, when Patrick Eaves tried an inexplicable drop pass just inside the New Jersey blue line while killing a penalty and the score tied 2-2. The Devils picked up the turnover, went down to the other end and took the lead.
Even in the regular season, that would qualify as boneheaded, but in the playoffs -- in Game 7, no less -- it was as bad a mistake as you can make. Yet who will remember it now?
With two minutes to go, the Canes were steeling themselves for a painful handshake line. Cam Ward was watching the bench, waiting for Paul Maurice to beckon him in that last act of desperation.
Moments later, Ward was the star of the series, his series of third-period saves suddenly imbued with new meaning, and Staal not far behind.
"This is as sweet as it comes," Ward said. "I mean, what a finish. It's hard to believe right now because we were down 3-2 with two minutes to go. How quickly things change."
It was a fitting end to a series infused with an impossible amount of drama, even if Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos was caught yawning by FS Carolinas' cameras during Game 6 -- the second notable instance of Karmanos opening his mouth this season.
In the end, the Canes and Devils were separated by two overtime goals, a goal with 0.2 seconds left, a power-play deflection and one of the most preposterous comebacks (or collapses, depending on your perspective) imaginable.
"This was over," Brind'Amour said. "There was no maybe. We didn't have another life."
And now they do. They have as much life as any of the eight teams remaining, still chasing the Stanley Cup, still undefeated in the playoffs since 2002.