Hurricanes have knack for making most of rare playoff runs

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In that magical run to the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup victory, the Washington Capitals finally broke a cycle of fantastic regular seasons followed by heartbreaking finishes. Finally, the Capitals made good, in part because they consistently gave themselves a chance by winning division titles, if not the Presidents’ Trophy.

The Carolina Hurricanes introduce some really fun contrasts to the Capitals, including being the analytics darling while Washington often transcends those numbers.

But an even more tantalizing narrative is a “David vs. Goliath”-type underdog story, as the Hurricanes haven’t tasted the postseason since 2008-09.

(For some perspective: the Capitals have only missed the playoffs once [in 2013-14] since 2007-08.)

Give the Hurricanes this much, though: they have an uncanny knack for making the most of their rare playoff runs. It’s something to think about as the series begins with Game 1 in Washington on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. ET (USA; live stream).

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

This is just Carolina’s sixth playoff appearance since moving from Hartford and becoming the Hurricanes in 1997-98, yet they conjured some magic in their last three appearances. Consider those three stretches, from oldest to newest:

  • In 2001-02, the Hurricanes made it to the 2002 Stanley Cup Final, falling 4-1 to the Detroit Red Wings. With 91 points during the regular season, Carolina beat out the Capitals for the Southeast Division title, but the team nonetheless felt decidedly scrappy. Current coach Rod Brind’Amour was an alternate captain.
  • After that run, the Hurricanes failed to make the playoffs for two straight seasons, before the 2004-05 season was canceled because of a lockout. The Hurricanes then won the Stanley Cup during the zany 2005-06 season. Many remember this as a weak team for a champion, but some forget that they finished the season with 112 points, the second-highest total in the East that season. Eric Staal topped all scorers with a breakthrough 100-point season, Brind’Amour was the captain and two-way beast, and Cam Ward won the Conn Smythe.
  • The Hurricanes then missed the playoffs for two straight seasons before returning to the postseason in 2008-09, their last appearance until the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Carolina won two playoff rounds before being swept by the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final. Brind’Amour was … still captain.

So, in the Hurricanes’ last three playoff runs, they’ve won nine playoff series, and lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champions both times they failed to win it all. That’s pretty good bang for your buck, huh?

It’s also worth noting that Brind’Amour has been involved in those three runs, which … *arches eyebrow*

None of this is to say that the Hurricanes will go deep during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as they’re considerable, justifiable underdogs against the defending champions in Round 1, just to begin. Still, it’s remarkable how this franchise has made the most of these appearances in the past.

Hurricanes – Capitals Game 1 from Capital One Arena will be Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on USA Network. You can stream it here.

For more on these two teams, check out the series preview. Get a rundown of Thursday’s full slate of Game 1 action with The Wraparound.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Cam Ward delivers an all-time own goal (video)

Fox Sports Carolinas
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We’ve seen some pretty interesting own goals throughout NHL history, and now Cam Ward has staked his claim for one of the strangest.

The Carolina Hurricanes goaltender scored on himself in one of the most bizarre plays ever seen in the NHL.

The puck, as you can see, hops into the skate of an unknowing Ward as the veteran netminder went out to play a puck that was rimmed around the boards.

Ward, does what he would normally do after trotting out behind his net, and gets back into his crease. Unsure of where the puck is, he drops into the butterfly. The problem is the puck is stuck in his right skate, which goes over the goal line.

It’s hard to explain, so let’s roll the footage:

The play-by-play man on Fox Sports Carolinas had a good point: Why wasn’t the play blown dead? Even if the ref has his eye on the puck, there was no way of Ward knowing what he was about to do.

Is there even a rule for that?

Either way, one of the strangest goals in recent memory counted in a game few were probably watching to begin with.

It’s probably safe to assume Ward (and goalies around the NHL) are going to find some way as to not let that happen again.

Update:

Ward admitted that giving up a goal like that bothered him.

“I’ve had some bad bounces throughout my career but I think certainly that tops the list,” Ward said, per the Charlotte News & Observer. “I can sit here and pretend it didn’t bother me but it did bother me.

“I mean, you battle all season long, you compete, and then a bounce like that happens (and) it doesn’t seem fair at the time. But the guys competed and capitalized on our opportunities. It wasn’t exactly a goaltending battle, both ways, out there.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Cam Ward keeping Hurricanes in playoff hunt as Scott Darling struggles

AP Images
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It seemed simple enough for the Carolina Hurricanes after last season: Find a goaltender and the upward climb should finally begin with the young talent on the roster.

So when general manager Ron Francis traded for Scott Darling’s rights and signed him a four-year deal, it seemed like a problem solved. Darling did an admirable job backing up Corey Crawford with the Chicago Blackhawks and now was his opportunity to take the reins as a regular NHL No. 1 goalie.

Boy, it hasn’t gone well at all.

Darling is currently sporting a .896 even strength save percentage and was in net for all eight goals during last Tuesday’s drubbing at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (How soon until head coach gives him the Eddie Lack treatment?)

“It’s been kind of an up-and-down season for me,” Darling told Ken Campbell of The Hockey News after the loss. “Great game, not-so-great game. I can’t really put my (finger) on it. It’s still just goaltending, right? So I don’t really know why I’m having consistency issues. Maybe it’s just the adjustment to a new team, new city, new everything. My whole life is different now, so I’m sure all that stuff factors into it.”

In fact, it’s gone so poorly for Darling and the Hurricanes that Cam Ward, whose play the last few years led to Francis making the trade, has the job again while helping Carolina win his last four starts.

“I’m just enjoying it. You have a newfound appreciation for the game when you see you’re not playing as much and try to take advantage of the opportunities that you’re given,” he said after Saturday’s win over the Buffalo Sabres.

We’ll see how long this Ward renaissance lasts, but the end game is to get Darling right because he’s signed through the 2020-21 season at a $4.15 million cap hit. The Hurricanes need that to happen because as Adam Gretz noted earlier this month they’ve finished 18th, 28th, 29th and 26th in team save percentage over the last four seasons. Many have been expecting this team to finally turn the corner and be on the rise, but their production from between the pipes has really been holding them back.

Plus, besides there being a lack of quality options on the market, there’s plenty of competition around the league is trying to shore up their goaltending. The Pittsburgh Penguins would like to add someone. Maybe Garth Snow is close to fully losing his patience with Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss. Plenty want to buy but the goods just aren’t available at the moment.

If Ward, who will start Wednesday vs. Montreal, comes back down to earth, and it’s likely to happen sooner rather than later, Darling’s play needs to match up with the expectations laid upon him after the Hurricanes made the deal. It’s a tight squeeze in the Metropolitan Division and Carolina is currently sitting three points out of a wild card spot (thanks, loser point!).

Losing out on extra points due to goaltending isn’t an ideal plan, so whether it’s Ward or Darling for the long-run here, that position can’t sink the Hurricanes once again.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Hockey fans celebrate National Dog Day

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

It’s looking more and more like Eric Staal and Cam Ward will enter the Carolina Hurricanes’ training camp without new contracts. (News & Observer)

Armed with a tryout contract, Tom Sestito hopes to earn a job with the Pittsburgh Penguins out of training camp so that he can “deter a guy from taking a run at the 90,000 stars on the team.” (Penguins.nhl.com)

The ECHL’s Greenville Road Warriors have changed their name to the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. Their new logo features a rabbit who is wielding a mix between a hockey stick and carrot. (Greenville Online)

The Edmonton Oilers might be a significantly different team with a new bench boss, substantially changed front office, and a new hope in Connor McDavid, but one thing Andrew Ference doesn’t expect to change is his position as the team’s captain. (Edmonton Journal)

Ryan Johansen threw out the first pitch for Cincinnati on Monday and that event gave him a chance to talk with the Reds players about the differences and similarities between the two sports. (Bluejackets.nhl.com)

Finally, it was National Dog Day on Wednesday and that involved a lot of hockey-themed pictures. Here are some of the highlights:

Under Pressure: Ron Francis

With two key members of the franchise heading into the final year of their respective contracts, ‘Canes GM Ron Francis is under pressure to make some big decisions in Carolina.

Both Eric Staal and Cam Ward are set to become unrestricted free agents after the 2015-16 season. Both players were first-round picks of the ‘Canes and have spent their entire careers in the Carolina organization.

“We’ve had some conversations with Rich (Curran). When Eric and Cam get back into town, I’m sure we’ll have conversations with them,” Francis said. “I feel pretty comfortable with my relationship with Rich, and with both players that when the time is right and the numbers are right that we can get something done.

“Am I in a hurry to get this done this week or before camp or into the season? I really don’t have a timeframe on it. It’ll get done when it gets done.”

Ward, who went 22-24-5 in 51 appearances last season while posting a 2.40 G.A.A. and a .910 save percentage, is no stranger to being the subject of trade rumors. The 31-year-old expected to be dealt last summer.

“There was a lot of chatter about it last year and I learned a lot from that too,” Ward told PHT in January. “(Last) summer I was really able to take a break mentally and realize that I can only control what I can control – that’s just having fun and enjoying the game of hockey.”

Staal scored 23 goals and 54 points in 77 games last season registering his lowest totals since his rookie season.

“We’ll look at the whole situation and try and figure out what’s best,” Francis said. “As we said from Day 1, it has to make sense for our organization. We always talk about the term of the contract and the money in the contract – making sure we’re not blocking things going forward either.”

In addition to Staal and Ward, Francis will have to make decisions on Nathan Gerbe and Riley Nash up front. The only defenseman set to become an unrestricted free agent is John-Michael Liles while Eddie Lack is also headed into the final year of his contract.

Related: Poll: What should the ‘Canes do with Eric Staal?