RALEIGH, N.C. – Paul Maurice couldn’t sleep. His Carolina Hurricanes had staged a rally for the ages a few hours earlier, and the coach’s mind wouldn’t stop racing.
“Every five minutes or so . . . it’s like getting hit with a bus – but a good one,” the Carolina coach said Wednesday with a smile. “You realize just what happened.”
No surprise, then, that Maurice was content to trade a restless night for yet another comeback victory to keep an improbable post-season going.
The Hurricanes scored two goals in the final 80 seconds of Game 7 to stun the New Jersey Devils, a rally that will be talked about with the same reverence as the “Miracle at Molson” – a three-goal charge by Carolina against Montreal in the 2002 playoffs.
The rally from near-certain defeat Tuesday night knocked off New Jersey 4-3 and sent the Hurricanes into a best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series that begins Friday night at top-seeded Boston.
But before completely immersing himself in preparation for the series with the Bruins, Maurice looked back in appreciation of his team’s playoff-saving rally against the winningest goaltender in NHL history.
“One of (the Devils said) they’re never going to forget that,” Maurice said. “I’m just really glad I don’t have that memory. This one’s way better.”
Carolina trailed 3-2 and was 1 1/2 minutes from making its summer vacation plans when the rally started.
“There’s a tension built into playing New Jersey, where if you’re down five minutes into the game, you’ve got to spend the next 55 trying to solve the puzzle,” Maurice said. “We got right to the edge of that cliff.”
The puck was fluttering out of the offensive zone when Tim Gleason stretched out at the blue line to keep it in, a play Maurice said “saved our season.” It wound up on Joni Pitkanen’s stick and he zipped a cross-ice pass to the low right circle to Jussi Jokinen, and he one-timed it past Martin Brodeur for the tying goal with 1:20 to play – his second last-second goal of the series.
The Hurricanes’ bench was still buzzing from that score – and perhaps bracing for a third overtime game in the series – when Staal beat Brodeur with a blast from the right circle with 37.1 seconds remaining.
“Sometimes on those instant-reaction moments, you’re not even thinking. It’s just all reaction,” Staal said.
It was a fitting conclusion to a back-and-forth series in which five games were decided by one goal. Jokinen won Game 4 with a last-second deflection and the teams combined to score 15 goals apiece before Carolina’s two in the final 80 seconds of the series.
It prompted dozens of rowdy Caniacs to flock to the local airport at roughly 1 a.m. Wednesday to greet the team.
And it immediately stirred memories of the ’02 rally in Montreal, where the Maurice-led Hurricanes rallied from three goals down in the third period and beat the Canadiens in overtime to tie their Eastern Conference semifinal series at two games apiece – a comeback still called the “Miracle at Molson” after the former name of Montreal’s arena.
“The one in Montreal, you had time to absorb each goal. This one, it was two goals and the end of the game, and you’re in the coaches’ room going, ‘What just happened?”‘ Maurice said.
Of course, the Hurricanes might need more than another miracle to deal with the Bruins, who swept four regular-season meetings by a combined 18-6 on their way to clinching the East’s top spot for the first time since 2002. Boston hasn’t played in a week after outscoring Montreal 17-6 in a first-round sweep.
That’s enough to keep any coach up late at night. Then again, after beating the Devils in such dramatic fashion, maybe Maurice is used to working without much rest.
“You get home (from New Jersey) and figure you’ll just fall asleep,” Maurice said. “And it’s not an excitement – you just can’t sleep. You’re wired. So, drink more coffee today, and watch more video.”
AP sportswriters Tom Canavan and Ira Podell in Newark, N.J., contributed to this report.