Carolina Hurricanes

Tested Jokinen has become Hurricanes' inspiration

After scoring yet another huge goal for the Carolina Hurricanes, this time to put them within one win of the conference finals, Jussi Jokinen stood in front of his locker with a wide smile on his face.

He again looked like someone dumbfounded by what he just saw, let alone the role he played in it.

This time, it was a power-play goal, the winner in a 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins on Friday to give the Hurricanes a 3-1 lead in the series, almost routine by his standards at this point.

"That's one of the best feelings you can have, when your team wins a huge game and you played a big part," Jokinen said Friday morning, hours before he did it again.

Everyone likes to see Jokinen smile, because it has been a grim spring for the Hurricanes center. Jokinen politely declines to answer questions about his father, but here's what we know:

We know that in early March, Jokinen's father Keijo died at age 51. Jokinen spent 10 days at home in Finland before returning to the team.

We know that among Jokinen's six playoff goals are some of the most dramatic and timely in franchise history.

We know that a Finn has changed the words to the national anthem, at least at the RBC Center: "Oh say can 'Jussi?' "

We know the Hurricanes wouldn't still be alive without him, never mind the verge of advancing.

We don't know, but we can wonder, if someone, somewhere, is helping him find his way.

"Definitely," said Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward, a man of no small faith himself. "You can't help but think about that. He's had some tough times this year, with the way that his hockey season went and the death of his father. He does look like a man on a mission.

"But so are we. We want to play for him, for a guy like that. He's gone through so much. It puts a smile on our faces to see him have this success."

We also know that these past three months haven't been easy on Jokinen. His fellow Finns, Joni Pitkanen and Tuomo Ruutu won't say much out of deference to Jokinen's private nature, but their eyes say it for them.

Even mentioning Jokinen's penchant for dramatic goals and the passing of his father in the same context would probably be considered an invasion of his privacy, from his perspective. Yet at this point the coincidence is too remarkable to ignore.

"It's been hard," Pitkanen admitted, earlier in the playoffs. "It's great to see Jussi playing so well. I'm happy for him. He's been playing all through the playoffs like this, scoring big goals. What are you going to say? Huge goals."

Even under normal circumstances, Jokinen would be an unlikely hero. Once a regular 50-point scorer for the Dallas Stars, a knee injury and a coaching change left him on the scrap heap at midseason, where the Hurricanes obtained him from the Tampa Bay Lightning for spare parts.

He admits that three months ago, he could never have imagined himself in this position: After scoring seven goals in the regular season, he has six in the playoffs, and the Canes are on the doorstep of a considerable upset.

Carolina's best player, Eric Staal, has outplayed Boston's best player, Zdeno Chara. Ward has outplayed his Boston counterpart, Tim Thomas. And the Bruins, like the New Jersey Devils, have had no answer for Jokinen, who had three points in the third period alone Friday.

The Hurricanes have outplayed the Bruins in this series since putting the Game 1 debacle behind them, no question about it, but it's hard to believe the best team in the Eastern Conference could crumble this badly.

It might just be, watching Jokinen, that they're a little shaken, fearing they're up against not just a player but a team of destiny. They may have thought that watching the Hurricanes rally against the Devils as they awaited a second-round opponent. They know it now.

As demoralizing as they have been for the Devils and Bruins, Jokinen's heroics have been just as uplifting for the Hurricanes. They need only look at him smiling to know anything is possible.

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