Luke DeCock

In a series, in a single game, a full season’s arc takes flight

There was something a little familiar about this, not just to impartial observers but the man at the center of it. Rod Brind’Amour was the captain of the Carolina Hurricanes back in 2009 when they somehow scored two goals in 80 seconds to turn Game 7 elimination against the New Jersey Devils into Game 7 advancement, as unlikely a turnaround as could be imagined.

Wednesday, he was the coach of the Hurricanes as they came back from an early two-goal deficit to force overtime against the defending Stanley Cup champions, juggling his lines and pairings like a cruise-ship magician, coaxing his team into playing its game through one overtime and into a second, before Brock McGinn scored to eliminate the Washington Capitals and send the Hurricanes into the second round.

All you could say in 2009 was, what the heck just happened?

“You tell me,” Brind’Amour said at his locker that night. “It’s amazing the [stuff] we can pull off sometimes. I don’t know how we do it.”

All you could say Wednesday was, what the heck just happened?

This time, Brind’Amour knew how they did it. They had done it this way all season. There was no secret or mystery to it.

They stuck to their plan, even after they were clearly rattled by the Game 7 pressure and circumstances, giving up the two early goals, spotting the Capitals a lead for the second straight game. But Sebastian Aho’s short-handed goal gave them life, and Teuvo Teravainen kept it close, and Jordan Staal tied it up – the Hurricanes’ big guns finally firing when it mattered.

(Staal’s shot even had a familiar ring to it, an eerie echo of his older brother Eric’s to beat Martin Brodeur in that Game 7 against the Devils.)

Then Justin Williams, now 8-1 in Game 7s in his career, picked up his record 15th point with a centering pass to a crease-crashing McGinn. And just like that, it was over. Seven games and then some, and the road team finally won one.

“We battled so hard all season,” said McGinn, who also dove to sweep a puck off the goal line late in the third period. “To get rewarded like that, it’s an awesome feeling.”

That was a prominent theme in the aftermath Wednesday night, how the arc of the season had bent toward this.

They lost a player as important as Staal for an extended period and still found a way to win. Disregarded, occasionally disrespected, the Hurricanes weren’t always rewarded for how well they played but they fought their way into the playoffs in the end.

And down two games to the Capitals, down 2-0 and 3-1 in Game 7, after losing Andrei Svechnikvov, it had the same feeling, the same aura. They have been playing from behind for two months. What was two more periods? What was two more overtimes?

What was any of this compared with what they endured for six months, battling, scraping, hustling, succeeding?

It certainly wasn’t anything new.

So it’s on to Brooklyn, on to the New York Islanders, a brutally quick turnaround for anyone. The honed-to-a-fine-edge Hurricanes may have the advantage over the Islanders, who have been off for more than a week after sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins. Or they may not have anything left in the tank at this point after pouring it out against the Capitals in a brutal war of attrition.

“I don’t know how far we’re going to take this,” Brind’Amour said, “but I know we’re going to give it everything we can.”

They have all season, they did all series, they did Wednesday night. Each bled quietly and seamlessly into the next, and now a new phase begins.

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.