There’s something about seeing that orange and blue back on the PNC Arena ice that quickens the heartbeat, reflexively, at the command of memories buried deep in the mind. It still happens even if all the names have changed but one – even the arena’s name – and the only thing these Edmonton Oilers have in common with those Edmonton Oilers is the name.
Cam Ward’s still around, though, the last active vestige of one of the great Stanley Cup finals of all time, even if those 11 years feel now like an eternity. The seven games the Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes played for a Stanley Cup seem like a lifetime ago, and yet even now, more than a decade later, they remain linked, inextricably, by their incompetence since.
As if penalized for the wealth of drama they created in 2006, the two franchises exited that postseason and entered this decade of limbo, where they continued to reside Friday night, although perhaps not for much longer.
The Hurricanes have made the playoffs once since then. The Oilers came close once. When that latter streak ends, and it appears all but certain to end this season, the Hurricanes are in position to be the new holders of the longest active drought, with a two-year head start on the Buffalo Sabres.
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That presumes the Hurricanes don’t get back into the postseason this year, which remains a possibility, if a remote one thanks to their costly skid heading into the All-Star break. Even Friday’s 2-1 win over the Oilers – thanks to Sebastian Aho’s fourth goal in two games – leaves them with a long way to go yet.
If that’s the price paid for the 2006 finals, so be it. There was almost too much going on, even from the first evening, when the Hurricanes fell behind by three goals before Andrew Ladd collided with Dwayne Roloson behind the Edmonton net and Rod Brind’Amour won it in the final minute.
They went from 3-1 up to 3-3, thanks to Cory Stillman’s Game 5 turnover on a power play in overtime, the Stanley Cup uncrated and polished in the loading dock, then recrated and loaded on a plane to Edmonton. And then, Game 7. No one remembers the Hurricanes killing off a two-man advantage after Aaron Ward flipped the puck over the glass; everyone remembers Ward’s save on Fernando Pisani and Justin Williams’ empty-net goal.
Fernando Pisani: That name probably resonates more here than it does in Edmonton.
And through it all, Ward has been in the Carolina net, the suburban Edmonton native who defeated his hometown team in 2006, was excellent for two rounds in 2009 before his back gave out and hasn’t been to the postseason since.
The Oilers bottomed out, rebuilt around a seemingly endless series of No. 1 overall picks – Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Connor McDavid – and finally seem to be heading the right direction with McDavid and a new administration and coaching staff.
The Hurricanes hung around the playoff hunt for a few years, making in 2009 and missing in the others, before Ron Francis took over and initiated a slow rebuild. They were never bad enough to land McDavid or Nathan McKinnon or Auston Matthews and never worse than the Oilers in the years they had the No. 1 pick, and instead have been hit or miss in the middle ranges of the first round while finding impact players later in the draft (Aho, Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin, Victor Rask).
These franchises have taken two different paths since 2006, each leading nowhere, so far at least. The Hurricanes think they’re on the verge, building toward something special. The Oilers, after languishing for years, finally got their act together this season.
For 11 years, both teams have paid a karmic price for the magic they created together. For one, the drought may finally be coming to an end. The other will likely assume that burden, with hopes not to carry it for as long.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock