The Carolina Hurricanes pulled off the last in a string of crazy first-round playoff series upsets on Wednesday night, disrespecting the far more experienced Capitals by wearing them down over two overtimes for a 4-3 win. It was going to be extremely tough for the Canes and the Caps to match the hijinks of the Knights-Sharks battle that went down less than 24 hours prior, but after slipping down 2-0 early, and 3-1 later, Justin Williams and the Canes found a way to stay alive in unforgettable fashion and move on.
And so the Hurricanes advance to what should be a strange but awesome second-round series against the Islanders, continuing a season that’s been incredible to watch for either a curious neutral or a formerly apathetic Carolinian. In just one year, a team that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2009 made a 16-point jump from ignored and unpopular to an extremely fun team that went up against the defending champions and lived to tell the tale, and god do I hope they stay this way.
The enduring image of the Hurricanes’ regular season was, strangely, not any specific goal or win, but what came after the victories at home. As the Hurricanes evolved from an oddity to a truly competitive team, their postgame Storm Surge celebrations evolved in their choreography from basic—“skate towards the boards”—to exceptionally advanced—“bring out a basketball hoop and run a play so Trevor van Riemsdyk can dunk on skates.” Masterminded by the beloved three-time Cup winner Williams, the celebrations not only pissed off old farts like Don Cherry, but added excitement and unpredictability to the team’s home games. Suddenly, when those “Bunch of Jerks” won, you had to notice.
But the celebrations would have been few and far between if this team didn’t have talent, which they certainly do. Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen are the offensive duo of the present and the future, as the 21-year-old Aho led the team with a career-high 83 points in his third NHL season, with the 24-year-old Teravainen right behind him with 76. Both of them scored in Game 7. Nino Niederreiter, who’s locked up long-term, notched 30 points in 36 games with the team after arriving midseason from Minnesota. Defensively, their core guys are still in their mid-20s but already allowed just the third-fewest shots per game of any team in the league this year. And Andrei Svechnikov, a 19-year-old with the dumb guts to fight Alex Ovechkin, scored 20 goals in his rookie campaign, while on the other end of the spectrum, 37-year-old captain Justin Williams—the Robert Horry of hockey—has seen just about everything a player can see throughout his career.
The Hurricanes also have a lucky pig. His name is Hamilton.
This sounds ridiculous to say about a team that just beat the Capitals, but the actual most impressive thing Canes is that they should be even better, because analytically, they are spectacular. The team ranked a mere 16th in goals scored this year, but in expected goals scored, they were third. In goals against, they were seventh best in the league, but in expected goals against, they were second. What does this tell you? Even with as much success as they’ve had, they’ve been very, very unlucky. If that bad luck regresses, they’re an elite team.
Still-young goaltender Petr Mrazek has had some hiccups that have disrupted his promising career, but in this recent stretch he’s been very solid, and might just now be entering his prime. He’ll be a free agent after this year, but assuming the Hurricanes keep Mrazek or get a different good goalie and ink the RFA Aho to a big extension this summer, they’ll still have some cap space to play with to either bring back Micheal Ferland or improve their skating corps in other ways.
In a wide-open Stanley Cup Playoffs, this could very well be the Canes’ time to shine already. But even if it’s not, they still have plenty of promising seasons ahead of them. If you got into the Hurricanes this year after a decade of apathy, great for you. And if you haven’t quite caught on yet, stop dragging your feet and watch them take on the Islanders! Nothing is certain in hockey—just ask the Oilers—but as long as the universe is feeling charitable, and GM Don Waddell stays logical, these Canes are going to become a familiar sight in Aprils and Mays to come.