Canes Now

Memories of heated playoff series still fresh for Canes, Caps

Brock McGinn was jumping for joy.

Don Waddell was jumping for joy.

In Raleigh, thousands of Carolina Hurricanes fans were jumping for joy.

In the flash of an eye, the Canes had beaten the Washington Capitals, toppling the 2018 Stanley Cup champions on a quick scoring strike by McGinn.

The two teams had played more than 91 minutes at Capital One Arena in Washington, in the second overtime of Game 7 in their Stanley Cup playoff series, before McGinn slipped inside Caps forward Tom Wilson and batted Justin Williams’ centering pass past goalie Braden Holtby.

Boom, just like that. Series over.

But for the Canes, it was more than winning a game or winning a Game 7 on that April day this year. It was more than beating the Caps. In their first Stanley Cup series since 2009, the Hurricanes, as Williams liked to put it, became relevant again.

McGinn hopped across the ice and into the arms of Williams and his teammates. High above the ice, Waddell, the Canes president and general manager, was hysterical, wildly hopping into the arms of Mike Bales, then the goaltending coach.

“That wasn’t me, that was my body double,” Waddell joked this week.

The Canes won the Stanley Cup in 2006, in a Game 7 against the Edmonton Oilers in the final. That was the biggest win in franchise history. But when you haven’t been in the playoffs for nine straight years, when you’ve become an afterthought in the NHL, returning to the playoffs and beating the champs, in Game 7, in their own building, sent a message to the rest of the league and was a much-needed boon for the franchise.

“People always knew who the Hurricanes were but they lost interest in the Hurricanes,” Waddell said in an N&O interview Thursday. “In the second half of the season we started to put it together and we became relevant in this marketplace again, and that continued all through the playoffs and through this summer.

“We’ve had the best summer in a long time from a business standpoint. From a team standpoint we had some guys who were here the last three or four years who hadn’t experienced (the playoffs). To have that opportunity to play in the postseason and realize how tough it is, I think that’s how you grow as a player and how you grow as an organization.”

Carolina’s Warren Foegele (13) challenges Washington’s Jakub Vrana (13) for the puck during the third period of the Carolina Hurricanes’ 5-0 victory over the Washington Capitals at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 15, 2019. Ethan Hyman

For the first time since that Game 7, the Canes and Caps will play Saturday at Capital One Arena in a game that matters, that counts. And if the preseason game last Sunday at PNC Arena is any gauge as to the mood of the Caps, anything could happen.

At one point, Wilson stood in front of the Canes bench, angrily jawing away before being pulled away by a game official. Wilson, who was given a 10-minute misconduct penalty, also was catching it from the Canes bench, told to cease and desist by Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour, and the back-and-forth was enough to irritate Caps coach Todd Reirden.

“That is something that I strongly, strongly disagree with, a coach talking to a player from the other team, and I had some comments for their bench as I walked off between periods,” Reirden told the media after the 4-3 Caps win Sunday.

So there’s that. Wilson, caught flatfooted by McGinn on the Game 7 winner, should be fully engaged in Saturday’s game, So, too, Caps forward T.J. Oshie.

In Game 4 of the playoffs, Oshie was sent into the boards by the Canes’ Warren Foegele. Oshie fell awkwardly and suffered a broken collarbone, his season over.

Oshie and Foegele were on the ice Sunday during the preseason game, but with no confrontation. The two teams also had a preseason game in Washington, but with the lineups sprinkled with younger players it was a nondescript 60 minutes of hockey.

Will that be the case Saturday? The Caps, coming off a Friday road game against the New York Islanders, will be playing their home opener and will want to make it a good, crowd-pleasing show.

The Canes and Caps once were old Southeast Division rivals before the NHL realignment. They’re both in the Metropolitan Division but the friction, some real testiness between the two, hadn’t been quite the same until the playoffs last season.

“Rivalries in the NHL today are predicated on the playoffs,” John Forslund, the Canes’ longtime play-by-play television broadcaster, said this week. “It doesn’t matter what geographic or divisional situations you might come up with. It’s the playoffs series, the seven games, those two teams. The next season, scores have to be settled.”

To recap, the Caps won the first two games of the playoff series. As Waddell said, the oddsmakers gave Washington a 90-percent chance of winning the series, but the Canes then beat the odds and won four of the last five games.

“Much like the team had played for months, they believed in each other and were committed to getting it done,” Forslund said. “Far more than making the playoffs, though, winning that series gave the city a chance to celebrate again that real joy.”

That playoff joy in Raleigh. Games 7s can do that. The memories linger, both good and bad, for both teams.

“We needed it more than they did, I think, at that time,” Brind’Amour said Friday. “It was big for us but now that’s long gone. We’ve got to move forward.”

In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.