Game 3, Round 1, 2006
The game 1 massacre of the New Jersey Devils in 2006 might have been the accelerator that pushed Carolina all the way to the Cup, but that series almost didn’t happen. Carolina barely got out of round 1 that year as they matched up with the pesky Montreal Canadians.
Carolina entered the playoffs as the Southeast Division Champion, the Eastern Conference’s two seed and were heavily favored against the Canadians. Losing four of their final six games, Montreal limped into the playoffs and were matched up with a Hurricanes team who just set a franchise mark for wins and points.
Montreal dismantled Carolina 6-1 in game one and then Carolina had blown 4-3 third period lead in game 2 before losing in overtime. It was a historic season for Carolina but the mindset of the fans and hockey media heading to Montreal down 2 was the magic was simply over. However, game 3 saw one major lineup change.
Rookie Cam Ward was given the start, relieving Martin Gerber, who had set a franchise record for wins that year that still holds to this day. Ward was magical stopping 27 of 28 and gave his team, whose offense hadn’t scored yet, a chance heading to the third.
Captain Rod Brind’Amour scored midway through and Eric Staal – fresh off a 100 point campaign in the regular season – scored just 3:38 into overtime to avoid the deadly 3-0 hole. Carolina went on to win the next three games before routing the Devils on their way to the Stanley Cup. The magic of 2006 almost didn’t happen – game 3 was the turning point that led to all the great memories. Sound familiar?