RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Carolina’s improbable playoff run has been fueled by dramatic finishes and unlikely heroes.
The Hurricanes’ flair for drama has taken the hockey world by surprise, however, the Carolina players look at it as business as usual.
That attitude has helped them snatch home-ice advantage from the Boston Bruins and placed them on the verge of putting the East’s top-seeded team in a deep hole Friday night in Game 4 of the semifinal series.
“It’s been going on here for a long time,” captain Rod Brind’Amour said Thursday. “It doesn’t seem to be just lately, and I don’t know if there’s any reason for it, other than the fact that we’re pretty level-headed. We don’t get too rattled in big situations. It’s not that big a deal. We just seem to be able to go play, whether it’s overtime or whether it’s the first period. Maybe that has something to do with it.”
Brind’Amour would know – he was one of the centerpieces of the Hurricanes’ march to the Stanley Cup in 2006, a run fueled by a flurry of late rallies and dominant third periods.
Back in the postseason for the first time since then, they’ve come up with a list of fantastic finishes while eliminating New Jersey in Round 1 and taking a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven series with Boston.
– Defenseman Tim Gleason, who hadn’t scored all season, fired a slap shot that clicked off a Devil’s skate and beat Martin Brodeur in overtime of Game 2 to give Carolina a 2-1 win.
– Forward Jussi Jokinen broke a tie with 0.2 of a second remaining in Game 4 when a shot deflected off his skate past Brodeur to make it 4-3.
– Jokinen and All-Star center Eric Staal scored in the final 80 seconds of Game 7 to help the Hurricanes rally past New Jersey 4-3.
– And Jokinen struck again Tuesday night in Game 3 against Boston, tapping a rebound into an open net at 2:48 of overtime to beat the Bruins 3-2.
Chalk up the team’s string of timely goals to the snowball effect, Jokinen said.
“When you get the first one … we were able to come back, we were down in the third period and we got a couple of goals and got a win,” Jokinen said. “It gives you so much confidence going forward, and your team knows you can come back from behind and win some games. I think it’s been step-by-step. You believe (in) yourself, you believe your team is going to (score) a goal.”
Jokinen, who passed through waivers by the Tampa Bay Lightning before they dealt him to Carolina in February, is one of a handful of Hurricanes making the most of their second chances. That list includes forwards Sergei Samsonov and Erik Cole and even coach Paul Maurice, who was fired by Carolina in 2003 but was rehired in December.
General manager Jim Rutherford “has brought back players to fit a need, and because they fit a need, they get the opportunity that maybe they weren’t getting somewhere else,” Maurice said. “It’s not enough to acquire good players. You have to acquire good players who fit your needs, and then they get better opportunities.”
The Bruins are trying to rediscover the rhythm that carried them to five straight wins, including a first-round sweep of Montreal, to open the postseason.
But after they couldn’t bounce back from their first loss of the postseason and wound up on their first losing streak of these playoffs, coach Claude Julien gave the players a day off to help them refocus.
“We’re not in trouble. We’re in a series that’s a hard-fought series,” Julien said. “What we have to do, probably, is get our game going in the right direction, which means our commitment to outworking the other team and our commitment to making better decisions on the ice.
“And it’s a combination of both, which brings it to, again, it’s a mindset,” he added. “Right now, we’ve struggled in the last couple of games, but there’s ups and downs in a season. You win a game, you’re Stanley Cup contenders. You lose one, you’re in trouble. That’s what you have to face every day. So we just have to keep our focus on what we have to do, believe in ourselves and go out and do it.”