Great discussions are already ongoing about a number of heavier topics in the Canes universe right now.
You can find a wide array of great opinions on the state of the team after the gut-wrenching loss on Tuesday HERE.
If you want something current but more positive, check out today’s Daily Cup of Joe which offers a short list of building blocks.
Following the theme permeating the sports world this weekend, the Thursday Coffee Shop offers up the “Good Old Days” bracket for Canes hockey offering four head to head match ups of great moments in Canes history from the first two playoffs in Raleigh way back in 2001 and 2002.
Please remember to click ‘vote’ after each individual poll response.
The greatest loss in Canes history?
Game 1 features a match up between arguably the two greatest losses in Carolina Hurricanes history. It might sound odd to include a losing effort in a nostalgic look back on great moments in team history, but both of these games were epic despite the outcome.
To this day, I rate the loss to the New Jersey Devils in game 6 of the 2001 playoffs among my top 5 moments in Carolina Hurricanes history. That season marked the first playoff appearance by the Hurricanes in Raleigh (after one appearance during the Greensboro years). The Hurricanes were matched up against juggernaut and perennial Stanley Cup contender New Jersey. Games 1 and 2 of the series featured the Hurricanes taking it to the Hurricanes both on the scoreboard and physically. Shane Willis was concussed by a big Scott Stevens’ hit, and the Hurricanes lost the first two games in New Jersey by a combined 7-1 margin. The first NHL playoff in Raleigh for game 3 was no different. The lasting image for that game is a woozy Ron Francis trying to somehow find his way back to the bench after being leveled by another Scott Stevens’ hit. The Hurricanes were again routed by a 4-0 score, and the affair featured a massive everyone on the ice/full yard sale type brawl that saw the Hurricanes try but not really exact any revenge. At that point, the first NHL playoffs were on their way to a 4-0 sweep and big thud. But an undermanned Hurricanes team fought back to win game 4 at home and even more surprisingly game 5 in New Jersey. Suddenly back in the series, game 6 was back home in Raleigh. New Jersey pulled out to a lead and the Hurricanes never really got close, but based on what the team had accomplished in games 3 and 4, it had won the hearts of the fan base. Following a television timeout inside of 10 minutes remaining in the game, an appreciative cheer broke out among the crowd despite the lopsided 5-1 score. The murmur grew louder and louder and ultimately the fan base cheered the team throughout the remainder of the game. To this day, that game was one of the most special things that I have ever witnessed as a sports fan trumping even the Stanley Cup Championship win in 2006 in terms of uniqueness and sentimentality. As much as any other single event in team history, I think that game built the special bond that existed between the team and the fan base in those early years.
Barely over a year later a second loss to the Detroit Red Wings in game 3 of the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals earned a positive place in Hurricanes’ history despite the negative result. After an absolutely magical run through the playoffs as a Cinderella team in 2002, the Hurricanes found themselves in the Stanley Cup Finals against a Detroit Red Wings team loaded with Hall of Fame talent. But given no chance as a huge underdog, the Hurricanes stole game 1 in Detroit with a Ron Francis overtime game-winner. After losing game 2, the Hurricanes returned home tied at 1-1 for the first ever Stanley Cup Finals game in Raleigh. The game was tight and a nail-biter throughout. When Jeff O’Neill scored 7:34 into the third period, the Hurricanes were up a goal with a chance to go up 2 game to 1 in the series, but a heartbreaking Brett Hull tip goal with only 1:14 remaining in regulation stretched the game to overtime. A first overtime passed without a winner. Then a second overtime passed without a winner. The game ended in heartbreaking fashion when Igor Larionov scored late in the third overtime, but despite the losing result the game still ranks as a classic in Hurricanes history.
Best starting points
The second bracket features a pair of wins that did not materialize into series wins but were huge wins nonetheless. And the games actually partner perfectly with the set in the first bracket.
As noted above, virtually none of the playoff goodness promised from NHL playoff hockey materialized through three games of the 2001 playoffs and the team’s first playoff appearance in Raleigh. But game 4 of the 2001 playoffs against New Jersey finally netted some playoff goodness. The Hurricanes had been whooped both on the scoreboard and physically and seemed destined to whimper off into the offseason in game 4. Minus captain Ron Francis, young scorer Shane Willis and a couple other players, an undermanned Canes team took to the ice for game 4 in Raleigh. A makeshift combination of Rod Brind’Amour and Sami Kapanen led a surprisingly determined Hurricanes squad. Kapanen scored early to make a statement, and Brind’Amour scored early in overtime to make a statement, earn the love of the fans and notch the team’s first playoff win since arriving in its ultimate home in Raleigh. Brind’Amour and Kapanen both finished with a goal and two assists in powering the team to a fun win.
Also as noted above, the Hurricanes were given no chance in the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals. But in game 1 of the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings, the Canes just shrugged and kept doing what they had been doing throughout the 2002 playoffs – winning dramatic fashion and adding story upon story to justify the well-earned “Cardiac Canes” tag. First Jeff O’Neill shocked the Joe Louis Arena faithful by scoring to tie the game with only 50 seconds remaining. Then Ron Francis followed that up by scoring only 58 seconds into overtime to seize a stunning win. The series ultimately ended negatively in only five games, but those who watched the series know that it tipped in game three and could have easily been a long series.
The most dramatic game of the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals run
The third match up features two of the most dramatic games of the 2002 Stanley Cup playoff run. With a series of wild overtime wins that made many heroes and netted Niclas Wallin his “The Secret Weapon” nickname, a battle for the most dramatic win is a battle royale.
The first entry dramatically altered a path seemingly headed for a second round playoff exit. Entering game 4 of the 2002 playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens, the Hurricanes were down 2 games to 1. With a loss, they would return home facing the nearly impossible task of winning three straight games to advance. What’s more, the series was trending in the wrong direction with Jose Theodore standing on his head on a nightly basis and seeming unbeatable. The Hurricanes had scored only two goals in the three previous games, and game 4 was following the same trajectory. Down three goals entering the third period after scoring only one goal in the previous 10 periods including one overtime period, the game was essentially over. Then it happened – “The Miracle at Molson.” Sean Hill scored a power play marker early in the third period, and then when Bates Battaglia scored midway through the period, the game was suddenly back on and Jose Theodore was suddenly human again. Erik Cole’s game-tying goal with only 41 seconds remaining in regulation made it possible, and Niclas Wallin’s overtime game-winner fulfilled the miracle. And once Theodore cracked, he cracked for good. The Hurricanes went on to win game 5 by a 5-1 margin and game 6 by an even bigger 8-2 margin to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Game 3 of the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Maple Leafs presented more high drama and a story for the ages. With the series knotted at 1 game apiece, the series went to Toronto. Early in that game Jeff O’Neill took a puck up high to the eye area. He briefly left the game but in true playoff hockey fashion was back taking regular shifts soon thereafter. As the game wore on, the swelling and discoloration of his eye seemed to become more obvious and painful each time they panned to O’Neill on the bench. After a tight-checking 1-1 affair through 60 minutes of hockey, the hockey gods looked down and did right when they awarded Jeff O’Neill the game-winner 6:01 into overtime in what affectionately became known as “The Black Eye Game” or similar.
Arguably the two most meaningful games in early Carolina Hurricanes history
The last match up of “The Good Old Days” bracket features what in my opinion are the two most significant games in terms of putting NHL hockey on the map in Raleigh and in the hearts of fans.
Game 5 of the 2002 playoffs against New Jersey was arguably the most pivotal game in Carolina Hurricanes history. Without it none of the goodness that followed in the 2002 playoff would likely have followed. And if you couple that with the down years that followed during the next two seasons followed by a lockout would hockey have every climbed off the ground at all in North Carolina if not for this single game? It might seem dramatic, but I think it is a legitimate question. The history that led up to this game is critical to understand. As highlighted in a couple games above, despite resulting in a loss, the two-game rebound in 2001 and the hockey community and team bonding in game 6 were awesome. Even better, they seemed to serve as a springboard for the 2002 playoffs. Again facing playoff juggernaut New Jersey in the first round, the Hurricanes came out fast and won both of the first two games of the 2002 playoff series. This time was going to be different. But then the Hurricanes were beaten handily in games 3 and 4 in New Jersey at which point the experts quickly chalked up another six-game series win for the Devils despite the early setback. And it made some sense. Both of the New Jersey wins were dominant, and each saw them chase Canes starting goalie Arturs Irbe. If the New Jersey carried momentum into game 5 and won, there seemed to be little doubt they would roll in game 6 at home. Had that happened, there would be no Black Eye Game, no Miracle at Molson, no overtime heroics by Niclas Wallin and others, no Martin Gelinas overtime game-winner to reach the Finals, no Francis winner in Detroit, not 1:30am Finals debut in Raleigh….None of it. All of it vanishes if New Jersey wins as expected in game 5 in the first round against the Devils. To this day, I can close my eyes and remember the feeling of my heart welling up inside me as Kevin Weekes led the team out of the tunnel. He had relieved in the previous two games, but the relative unknown who had recently arrived from Tampa Bay had played sparingly down the stretch as Coach Paul Maurice rode Arturs Irbe. But Weekes looked good early and any hope of New Jersey winning resoundingly seemed to vanish early. As is appropriate for magnanimous games like this, it proceeded to overtime. About midway through overtime a scrambling play found John Madden alone at the right side of the net with a gaping chunk of net to shoot into with Weekes still on the other side. Weekes spectacular lunging save to rob Madden of the game-winner is in my opinion the greatest save in Carolina Hurricanes history because of the path it paved forward through the magical 2002 playoff run. Josef Vasicek scored on a tip only moments later to tilt momentum back in the Hurricanes favor, and sure enough they capitalized with a 1-0 win in New Jersey in game 6 to win the series and launch into a historic run.
One of the magical games that followed was game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Maple Leafs. A back and forth series found the Hurricanes head to Toronto up 3 games to 2 and with a chance to close out the series and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. Following a formula common to the entire playoffs, the important game was a dramatic one. After no scoring in a tight game through two periods, the Hurricanes scored first on a Jeff O’Neill tally midway through the third period. As the clock wound down, a Stanley Cup Finals appearance seemed within reach. But then a heartbreaking goal by Mats Sundin with only 22 seconds remaining abruptly halted any celebrating and pushed the game to overtime. A cross ice pass from Josef Vasicek found Martin Gelinas in front of the net for a game-winning overtime goal and a pass to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Who has memories dating back to these early days?
1) What is your greatest memory from this early era of Hurricanes hockey?
2) What other great games or memories should have been included?