Carolina Hurricanes: Redemption Between the Pipes

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 16: Curtis McElhinney #35 of the Carolina Hurricanes crouches in the crease to protect the net during an NHL game against the Buffalo Sabres on March 16, 2019 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 16: Curtis McElhinney #35 of the Carolina Hurricanes crouches in the crease to protect the net during an NHL game against the Buffalo Sabres on March 16, 2019 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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The Carolina Hurricanes have been endowed with absolutely stellar goaltending this season. Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney have both been powerhouses in the crease, especially since we flipped our calendars over to 2019. Today, we look at the journey so far in the Hurricanes’ newfound confidence in net.

The year is 2006. Cam Ward has just won the Conn Smythe trophy after single-handedly backstopping the Carolina Hurricanes to their first and only Stanley Cup victory. Confidence was high throughout the playoffs, and the Carolina Hurricanes were absolutely buzzing going into the following season.

Cam Ward emerged from the 2005-2006 regular season an entirely different goalie than we’d seen up until this point. Eric Staal and Rod Brind’amour both returned to the team after turning in key performances that translated into a Stanley Cup victory, and fan confidence was at an all-time high.

This confidence was short-lived, however, as the Carolina Hurricanes would end up missing the playoffs for the next two consecutive seasons, despite having solid offensive production from the likes of Rod Brind’amour, Eric Staal, Ray Whitney, and Erik Cole. The missing ingredient was goaltending.

Cam Ward, after having a brilliant playoff streak as a rookie, was not performing the way that he had during the 2005-2006 Stanley Cup playoffs. Ward did not achieve higher than a .904% save percentage between the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 seasons; he also saw his goals-against average soar to 2.93 and 2.75, respectively.

The Carolina Hurricanes would regroup and eventually earn a playoff bid for the 2008-2009 season, in which they fought hard to earn a spot at the Eastern Conference finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Carolina was swept in the series, in which Cam Ward and the Hurricanes allowed 20 goals against, while only producing 9 goals throughout the entire series.

Confidence in Cam Ward and in the Carolina Hurricanes’ goaltending capabilities were absolutely shattered. Cam Ward managed to play relatively solid in net (with quite a penchant for flashes of brilliance) for the next few seasons before signing with the Chicago Blackhawks, but the Carolina Hurricanes have yet to return to the playoffs. That chapter in Hurricanes history, might soon come to a close.

Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney have taken the Carolina Hurricanes’ goaltending woes of years past and thrown them right out the window. Mrazek has started 37 games for the Hurricanes this season, and sports a .900% save percentage, with a goals-against average of 2.73. McElhinney has started 30 games so far, and currently sits at an impressive .915% save percentage, with a goals-against average of 2.53.

Both Mrazek and McElhinney have been pivotal in recent successes in must-win Eastern Conference games, such as the tilts with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Montreal Canadiens, and the Buffalo Sabres. The contrast in team confidence and the way our forwards, and especially our blueliners, play these days in front of the stellar tandem as opposed to years prior is absolutely palpable.

As it stands right now, the Carolina Hurricanes have only one problem when it comes to goaltending: who is the bonafide starter? Is it Petr Mrazek, with his overtime heroics and proclivity to play the puck? Or is it the White Wolf himself, Curtis McElhinney, who has made more clutch doorstop saves than you can shake a paddle at?

I’m sure many of you Caniacs have seen the phenomenal play of both Hurricanes goaltenders, and I’m sure you will agree with me when I say that there is no wrong answer to that question.

This is the best problem any team can have when it comes to goaltending, especially in such an important part of the season. The best is yet to come, and I am so excited and proud that the Carolina Hurricanes are on the cusp of putting an entire decade of missing the postseason to bed. It is time to turn the page, Caniacs. Take Warning.

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Question for CC Readers: What has been (or will be) the most important game in securing a playoff spot for the Carolina Hurricanes thus far?