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This date in Hurricanes history

While the Hurricanes aren’t doing anything this spring, May 28 is a huge day in the history of the Carolina Hurricanes.  Two of the biggest moments in franchise history have taken place on this date.  One in 2002 and the other in 2006.  Both occurred during Eastern Conference Finals play.  One of them was a “where were you when…” moment and the other was one that some Hurricanes fans might not even be able to pin down as a pivotal moment. 

The key players in these franchise-defining moments are Martin Gélinas and Cam Ward.

On this day in 2002, Carolina was at the Air Canada Centre facing the Maple Leafs in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals.  Carolina led the series 3-2 and needed to win just one of the next two games to advance to the Stanley Cup finals.  It was an amazing game, which Carolina won 2-1 in overtime.  Jeff O’Neill, who would years later become the subject of much ridicule, played a phenomenal game and a great series.  He was the best player on the ice, but it was Martin Gélinas who scored the series-winning goal to advance the Canes to their first ever Stanley Cup finals.  It was, at that point, the biggest goal in the history of the franchise. 

O’Neill had his second best NHL season in terms of goals (31) and points (64).  He led the Hurricanes and was tied for fourth in the league with eight playoff goals.  In game six, he was a beast.  He registered a staggering 11 shots on goal in that game and could have easily scored three goals if not for the outstanding play of Curtis Joseph.  CuJo made some highlight reel saves (many against O’Neill), but it was O’Neill who finally broke the scoreless tie midway through the third.  It was a great individual effort by O’Neill to steal the puck from Tomas Kaberle at center ice and come in alone on Joseph.  CuJo made a sprawling save, but gave up a juicy rebound to O’Neill, who tapped it into the empty net. 

With just a few breaths left in the game and Joseph pulled for an extra attacker,  Mats Sundin tied the game to temporarily stave off elimination and send it to overtime. 

At 8:05 of the extra frame, Gélinas tapped in a centering pass from Josef Vasicek, and the Hurricanes were on to the Cup final.  There is no doubt that it was, at that point, the biggest goal in franchise history.  By a long way.  Here’s the entire highlight package for that game.  Ahhh.  Hockey on ESPN: 

Gelly was the big hero that night, but he was allowed to walk that summer and signed as a free agent with the Calgary Flames.  Two playoff seasons later, Gelly turned in a feat that not even Nathan Horton can brag about.  Horton has the unique honor of having scored three overtime game winners in the same playoff season (this season), but Gélinas had three series-winning goals in the same playoff season (2004).  In game six of the Cup final, Gelly appeared to have scored what might have been the Cup-winning goal late in the third, but the call on the ice was “no goal” and it never even went under review. 

Since Gélinas’ Prince of Whales-winning goal in 2002, there have been a few that have been bigger than that, but not many.  That was May 28, 2002, and I know exactly where I was.  I was watching the game at the bar where I used to work.  This was before my time as a season ticket holder, so I had to go through Ticketmaster to get tickets to the Cup Finals.  When they went on sale the following morning, I used my dial-up internet (I know, right?) to attempt to get a block of tickets for myself and the guys who owned the bar.  Every time, it came up “unavailable”.  I ended up getting a single ticket to a single game.  I wish I would have picked the marathon game three, but I decided on game four, which was pretty ugly. 

The second May 28 of importance came during Carolina’s Cup-winning run in 2006.  It was game five of the ECF against the Sabres.  I still say to this day that the series against Buffalo was the best.  It was incredible.  Each team stole a game on road ice, and it was 2-2 going into game five.  Neither team had won two in a row.  Except for game four, they were all one-goal games with lots of nail biting and lots of heart palpitations.  Martin Gerber was fantastic in game four, taking a 4-0 shutout at the HSBC Arena.  He and Cam Ward had been splitting the duties ever since Ward came on in relief in the first game against the Canadiens. 

Things changed that night.

Chris Drury scored seven minutes into the game to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.  Justin “Viva” Williams answered back just a few seconds later to level the game.  Late in the first, Derek Roy helped Buffalo regain the lead, and just two minutes into the second, Toni Lydman made it 3-1 for Buffalo.  After the goal, Gerber was pulled and he never saw the ice in a Hurricanes uniform again.  We had no way of knowing that at the time, but it was a huge moment.  It was that moment, 1:55 of the second period of game five of the 2006 Eastern Conference final, that Cam Ward officially took the role as the absolute #1 guy in nets for the Hurricanes. 

The Canes fought back with second period goals from Mark Recchi and Rod Brind’Amour.  A scoreless third period meant that it would go to overtime.  Cory Stillman got it done for the Canes at 8:46 of the extra session, and Carolina was again just one win away from the Stanley Cup finals.  The Sabres won game six in an overtime game at Buffalo, then Carolina won the series on home ice.

We all know what happened after that.

I went to every playoff game that season, so of course I know exactly where I was when Cam Ward took over as the top dog.  Again, we had no way of knowing that it was a changing of the guard.  We had no way of knowing just how much of a workhorse Ward would be.  Whether he’s been pushed too hard is another conversation, but there’s no doubt that it was May 28, 2006 that Cam Ward took over as the starter.  Gerber didn’t play at all in the Cup final. 

Here’s what I posted about that game, over on the old blog. 

Gerber unceremoniously went to Ottawa the next season amid many concerns that Ward wasn’t ready to be the top dog.  Ward played in 60, 69 and 68 games in the next three seasons, respectively.  He fought injuries in 2009-10 and only played in 47 games.  This season, he played in 74 games. 

There’s no doubt that Ward was worked too hard this season, but the coaches had zero faith in backup Justin Peters.  They’ve already indicated that Peters isn’t in the plans for the big team in 2011-12.  They’ve suggested that the Canes are going to acquire a veteran goalie either through trade or free agency.  They also have little faith in Justin Pogge at the AHL level, so the idea is that Peters and Mike Murphy will split duties.

Hopefully next season, there will be another May 28 for the Hurricanes to talk about.  For now, these two are pretty cool ones.

Filed in: | Red and Black Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: cam+ward, carolina+hurricanes, jeff+o'neill, martin+gelinas

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About Red and Black Hockey

David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science.  He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows.  Sometimes, all in the same day. 

David has contributed to CBC.ca for their Stanley Cup playoff coverage in 2006 and to the New York Times Slapshot blog for theirs in 2008. Red and Black Hockey was founded in July of 2005.