Today’s Daily Cup of Joe steps out of the present and into the past and puts forward a few Canes assertions that are likely contrary to popular opinion.
Game 5 against the New Jersey Devils in 2002 NHL playoffs is single biggest win in team history
I get the significance of the Stanley Cup win in 2006 and acknowledge there is a strong case for it but here me out…
In 2000-01, the Hurricanes made the playoffs for the first time in Raleigh but ran into a buzz saw in the New Jersey Devils. The series had an unexpected amount of positives after the team was down 3-0 and seemingly destined for a rough first-time playoff experience in Raleigh. But the undermanned Canes stormed back, won two games and won captured the hearts of the first core fan base who was there. The ending was the extended standing ovation at the end of game 6 despite the team losing the series that day. That still ranks among my favorite moments in team history.
Fast forward to 2001-02. The Hurricanes return to the playoffs, but lo and behold the opponent is again the New Jersey Devils. The series started well with two hard-fought wins in Raleigh, but in the Devils won games 3 and 4 in New Jersey, chased starting goalie Arturs Irbe and were utterly dominant in doing so. At that point the Hurricanes quick start had evaporated to nothing and the most likely path for the series was probably the Devils riding momentum to a game 5 win and then finishing the series in game 6 in New Jersey. No way do the Hurricanes rebound if they lose game 5 at home for a third straight loss and a 3-2 series deficit.
At the top of the heap for drama for that game 5 was who would start in net. Kevin Weekes had seen action in relief in the prior games in New Jersey but had not started a game for some time. Yet Paul Maurice gave him the call. The game was tight the whole way and went into overtime setting a spectacular ending. First was Kevin Weekes’ lunging save to take away a shot that looked to be headed into an empty half net. To this day, I think it was the greatest save in Carolina Hurricanes history. Then Josef Vasicek finished things off shortly thereafter when he tipped a point shot to score the game-winner. With momentum regained, the Hurricanes scraped out series win in game 6 in New Jersey.
Without that win, there would have been no Miracle at Molson, no Jeff O’Neill black eye game, no Niclas Wallin overtime heroics, no Ron Francis overtime game-winner in game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals and no triple overtime game in the first Stanley Cup Finals game in team history.
More significantly, could a loss in that game 5 have actually erased all that followed including the 2006 Stanley Cup championship? I think that is actually possible. That 2001-02 Stanley Cup Finals run is what built the first core of the fan base. With consecutive first-round playoff exits and then horrid 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons followed by the full-year lockout in 2004-05, is it possible that the Hurricanes would not even still be in Raleigh if not for that magical 2002 playoff run? Fortunately, we will never know.
Rod Brind’Amour was completely robbed of the Conn Smyth Trophy in 2006
My aim is not to discredit the play of Cam Ward in the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs. He was stellar and obviously played a huge role in the Stanley Cup win.
That said, I think the voters missed by a WIDE margin in not awarding the Conn Smyth Trophy to Rod Brind’Amour. In addition to simply leading, he did absolutely everything for that team. He played as many minutes as possible against the other teams’ best players. He played and produced on the power play and also shorthanded. He was among the Canes’ top scorers. He scored a couple huge clutch goals. And more generally, he was just the best player on the ice in so many of those playoff games even above Cam Ward.
To this day my blood pressure rises when thinking about Brind’Amour not winning the Conn Smyth he deserved that year.
The fan base has always had a weird, oftentimes intense disdain for overachievers but at the same time unhindered affinity for lovable failures
There are contextual factors in play, but during some of the down times for the franchise, the fan base has had an uncanny knack for picking odd scape goats. Maybe hesitant to blame the stars they loved like Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk and Cam Ward (who did take heat from some part of the fan base), Canes fans consistently used overachievers as scape goats. The repeated story was this…Underachiever who resume-wise did not even project to be an NHL player rose up into the NHL and landed in the Hurricanes player. Said player overachieved and by virtue of the team being light on legitimate top 6 forwards rose up the depth chart. That coinciding with lack of success for team led to multiple iterations of a large portion of the fan base converting the overachieving hero into a scape goat. Undrafted Chad Larose was the most notable in this group, but it also featured Patrick Dwyer and Nathan Gerbe for good runs and then lesser but similar attention for players like Joakim Nordstrom who were good players that were overslotted by the team’s lack of high-end players. Rather than blaming beloved stars who often underperformed or management who did build a strong enough roster, the fan base in my view seemed to take out as much frustration as possible on players who did not deserve it.
In some cities, this negativity is more a way of life for the fan base against a number of victims when the team was ot playing well. But the reverse situation for another group of players is what actually makes it more of an oddity. For as much as the fan base has readily chucked underdogs under the bus, the fan base has had an over the top love for what could be termed ‘lovable failures.
Arguably the most notable in this group was Alexander Semin. After signing a one-year free agent deal and having a strong first year with the Canes playing on the top line with Eric Staal, Jim Rutherford signed Semin to a long-term contract. Though Semin has been gone for more than five years now, the Hurricanes will still be paying his buyout for the 2020-21 season. No doubt the way the team handled the situation was not ideal, but Semin really was bad that season. The production on the score sheet was not there obviously, but maybe more significant were the stretches where he just seemed to be somewhere else. But yet probably in part do to management’s mishandling of the situation a pretty significant contingent of the fan base defended Semin to the end such that there was actually a hearty debate when he was bought out. The other two big examples are goalies. Eddie Lack legitimately rates as one of the best people to wear a Hurricanes uniform. He was affable and fun on social media and engaged with the fans. He was sincerely a great person. That lovability won the hearts of Canes fans and kept them in his camp regardless of how he played on the ice. In two years, he never really did find a stretch of more than a couple games during which he was good or better. Yet the fan base defended him until the end. Then finally my last entrant for this category is maybe most puzzling. The team traded for and made a significant investment in Scott Darling to the tune of four-year contract totaling $16.6 million. Comments and reports (from him included) that surfaced in the aftermath of his time with the Canes indicated that he basically responded by showing up for training camp not ready to go. He proceeded to get injured in training camp and then never really did find any meaningful stretch of being decent or better as a starting goalie in Raleigh. But the fan base stuck with him through a rough first year and then mustered a ton of optimism for him heading into the second year of his contract. Peak Darling was when was when he had his own Twitter hash tag defending him I guess because it is the right thing to do to give players second and third chances? The ratio of fan love to how much he deserved either from results or just doing the right thing is the oddest fan appreciation disconnect in team history for me.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Does anyone else have the guts to second my controversial assertion that game 5 against New Jersey in the 2002 NHL Playoffs actually trumps the Stanley Cup win? If not, will anyone at least agree that it is closer than most would realize?
2) Who else thinks Rod Brind’Amour was robbed of the Conn Smyth in 2006?
3) What do you make of my assertion for a weird contrast of the fan base regularly chucking underdog heroes under the bus during hard times but at the same time defending ‘lovable failures’ to the death even if maybe they did not deserve it?