Luke DeCock

A blast from the past as former Thrashers catch Hurricanes off guard again, 13 years later

The Winnipeg Jets’ Blake Wheeler (26) and Mark Scheifele celebrate following Wheeler’s goal while Carolina Hurricanes defensemen Dougie Hamilton (19) and Jaccob Slavin, right, skate away during the first period of the Hurricanes’ 8-1 loss Friday night.
The Winnipeg Jets’ Blake Wheeler (26) and Mark Scheifele celebrate following Wheeler’s goal while Carolina Hurricanes defensemen Dougie Hamilton (19) and Jaccob Slavin, right, skate away during the first period of the Hurricanes’ 8-1 loss Friday night.

There have certainly been worse games of hockey played at PNC Arena than what the Carolina Hurricanes perpetrated on Friday, but rarely when they had been playing as well as they have lately or been clinging precariously to a potential playoff spot.

The latter condition hasn’t often been satisfied in recent years, which of course tends to limit the pool of candidates to start. It’s been so rare that the Hurricanes are this good, there haven’t been many opportunities for their good teams to be this bad.

On their way to an 8-1 win, the Winnipeg Jets scored four goals in the first period and probably should have been up by more. The Jets were quicker, stronger and flat-out better in every respect. They even scored twice in the last minute.

In spirit if not volume, it was reminiscent of the 9-0 loss to the Jets nee Atlanta Thrashers that put a savage end to the Hurricanes’ nine-game winning streak in November 2005, when the Hurricanes looked unbeatable until they looked incompetent.

Rod Brind’Amour remembers. He remembered during the first period Friday.

“When it got to 4-0, I was thinking, ‘I’ve seen this before,’ ” the player then and coach now said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have, because sometimes you think things and they do happen. It felt the exact same way.”

The Hurricanes can only hope things turn out slightly as well in the end.

However bad it was, the Hurricanes deserved worse. The Jets were quicker, sharper, tighter. The Hurricanes spent a good chunk of Thursday’s practice working on neutral-zone play and a good chunk of Friday’s first period playing like they had practiced just about anything else.

“It’s just not us,” Justin Williams said.

Sebastian Aho and Nino Niederreiter were on the ice for the first five Jets goals. Aho finished minus-5, whatever the hockey equivalent of the golden sombrero is. Le chapeau d’or. Niederreiter one-downed him, setting a new franchise record at minus-6. Le chapeau d’platine.

Oh, and if the result wasn’t bad enough, Micheal Ferland took an incidental helmet to the chin in the third period and could potentially be dealing with another concussion. More good news. By the time Brind’Amour came to the podium after the game, Ferland was still in the training room and had been there almost an hour.

This was the collision of a strong, heavy playoff team with one that still isn’t quite sure whether it is or not. In some ways, it was a chilling vision of Game 1 against a superior opponent, the worst-case scenario if the Hurricanes do make the playoffs and get matched up with a team that’s better down the middle and tougher everywhere else.

It should be a wake-up call in that respect, if nothing else.

The days when the Hurricanes saw every backup goalie ever to come out of junior hockey – and, too often, made them look infallible – are over. They’re not sneaking up on anyone. Winnipeg was ready. The Hurricanes were not. It’s going to be that way from here on out. It’s for real now.

And as much as you’d like to say, hey, it happen, there’s not a lot of wiggle room here. The Hurricanes were off to Nashville immediately afterward for Saturday’s game against the team the Jets just passed in the Central Division standings, sitting at home getting worked up about that – another strong, heavy team that’s better down the middle than the Hurricanes.

“No way we’re going to get through that if we show up like that against a team like Winnipeg,” Justin Faulk said, having just been proven correct in the most embarrassing way possible.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.
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