car veterns_tonightbug

NEW YORK -- The Carolina Hurricanes feel like they have a map for a journey only a handful of NHL teams have travelled.

The directions -- and the key to bypassing the obstacles placed in the way -- to glory in the Eastern Conference Second Round reside in the heads of the most veteran players on the team, those who have reached the Stanley Cup Final in the past.

“Guys that have been there before understand what it takes,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “They understand the ups and downs and they understand how hard it is to win; how hard it is to win a playoff game, never mind the whole thing. We added a little bit of that and I think that is really helpful.”

It's meant the world during the past week as the Hurricanes have twice staved off elimination against the New York Rangers in this best-of-7 series.

The Hurricanes won 4-3 in Game 4 and followed with a 4-1 win in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden on Monday. Game 6, with the Rangers holding a 3-2 lead in the series, is at PNC Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; MAX truTV, TBS, SNO, SNE, SN360, TVAS, CBC).

New York won the first three games, each by one goal, to put Carolina in a hole that 209 teams in a best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoff series have faced. Four have navigated the reverse sweep.

The Hurricanes are halfway to being the fifth team. Win Thursday and they force a winner-take-all Game 7 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

“It feels like we got down 3-0 so quick we didn’t even know what happened,” Carolina forward Martin Necas said. “Then, we started playing our game and we’ve been good. We got experience in this locker room and it’s big.”

It was huge Monday.

The Hurricanes entered the third period trailing 1-0 and things looked bleak. It could have been the final period of the season for Carolina and perhaps the final period as a Hurricane player on a team loaded with potential free agents.

But, captain Jordan Staal, a Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins early in his career, scored a pretty goal at 3:33 of the third period to tie the game 1-1 and light a spark under his team.

Staal was one of the loosest players during the morning skate before Game 5. Usually stoic, Staal was vibrant, encouraging his team to enjoy being alive in the series.

His broad smile was contagious, a beacon toward positivity.

“You don’t see that very often from him, so that’s good,” Necas said. “He’s our leader, you know.”

Yes, everyone on the Hurricanes knows Staal is the leader, and not just because of the “C” sewn onto his jersey.

He has help, though, some of it imported during the season because management felt Carolina was capable of winning the Stanley Cup, even after being swept in the Eastern Conference Final by the Florida Panthers last season.

Evgeny Kuznetsov was one of those players. The forward won a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2018, recording a whopping 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) during the postseason. He was acquired prior to the NHL Trade Deadline and has been a boon for the Hurricanes.

He has goals in back-to-back games, including the game-winner Monday, and has been a difference-maker on the fourth line.

He has also been a difference-maker in the dressing room.

On the day before Game 5, Kuznetsov delivered a vote of confidence to his team and turned the pressure up on the Rangers, stating that the New York team did not want to come back to Raleigh for Game 6, because Hell would await.

It produced the desired result, guaranteeing the Hurricanes at least one more game.

“It’s not on me to decide who is pressure or not,” Kuznetsov said after Game 5, softening his stance a bit. “I think it’s two beautiful teams competing against each other. It’s a dogfight now. What we are trying to do the past four days is just live day by day and do what’s best with our opportunities. I’m so grateful to have these moments.”

Defenseman Dmitry Orlov, who admitted he ignored the safe play of dumping the puck in at the blue line to make the deft pass that set up the Staal goal, is another import from the Capitals championship team, signed as a free agent during the summer.

Forward Jake Guentzel was acquired as the marquee forward at the 2024 deadline from the Pittsburgh Penguins and he has delivered, particularly in this series.

He did not have a point Monday, but he had three goals and two assists in the first four games and has been part of the most dangerous line for the Hurricanes with Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov.

Staal, who has been in the League 18 seasons and won the Cup in 2009, is happy to have some fellow travelers who know how to endure the pitfalls and struggles in the quest for the grail.

He knows those players will be huge again on Thursday in Game 6 and, perhaps, Saturday and beyond.

“Playoffs is tough,” Staal said. “It’s hard mentally. There’s ups and downs, there’s times you have to battle through stuff that’s just not going your way. You just have to stay with the consistency of your game. I think we’ve done that really well.

“Obviously better lately than at the start, but we’ve still played some good hockey throughout this whole series. We’re starting to get some bounces and we’re fighting for the next day. It’s honestly been the boys giving all that they have.”

Related Content