The Carolina Hurricanes hadn’t been to the playoffs in 10 years, the longest active drought in the NHL. But this would all come to an end on this night a year ago.
It had been a tough time for the franchise. The Carolina Hurricanes had not seen games going into April since 2009, but the day had come where if they won and results elsewhere favored them, Carolina could seal a playoff berth.
All they needed to was beat the New Jersey Devils, and hope the Washington Capitals beat the Montreal Canadiens in regulation. Washington would clinch the Metropolitan division with 2 points from Montreal. There was hope for Carolina to seal a playoff spot.
Montreal was white-hot going into this game, and it showed early. Washington was given everything they could handle forcing saves out of the Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby. Carolina needed Washington to win in regulation remember.
But with 1:29 left in the first period, the capitals got the first goal of the game. Carolina was left with a win and in scenario. Carl Hagelin got the puck in the corner and had gotten it out to Brett Connolly. Connolly found Lars Eller out in front and Carolina had one foot in the playoffs. This was the closest to the playoffs the Canes had been since 2011.
In the Carolina game, things had not started so well. Pavel Zacha had found Michael McLeod. He moved it out to the point for Devils captain Andy Greene. Greene’s shot was tipped out in front by Zacha, and New Jersey had played their spoiler role to perfection early. Carolina could not afford to overlook their opponent.
Carolina would get it back soon after though. Jaccob Slavin found a pass across to his defensive partner Dougie Hamilton. Dougie would put his passing ability on display and play a beautiful pass to the speedy Warren Foegele. Foegele starts to barrel down on the net and with a quick deke, Foegele manages to find twine, and the Canes were level.
However, there was bad news at the intermission for the Canes. Montreal managed to tie the game in Washington. Shea Weber would get the goal back after a nice passing play was broken up in the slot, the loose puck just found it’s way to the now-captain of the Montreal Canadiens. It was 1-1 in each game going into the 2nd period.
Carolina would quickly find their way into the lead in their game. On the powerplay, Teuvo Teravainen would find his long lost brother, Sebastian Aho (Disclaimer: To my knowledge, they are not actually related). Aho would move it back to Justin Faulk, who put the puck past all the Devils on the ice, and Carolina had the lead.
Carolina also got a helping hand from Washington. Montreal would turn the puck over at their own blueline, and the Capitals would jump quickly. Andre Burakovsky would find a pass over to Nic Dowd. Dowd would blast the puck home, and he would give the Capitals the lead. Carolina had everything going for them right now.
Time would hit 0:00’s in each game at the end of the 2nd period. Washington was leading Montreal 2-1, and Carolina was leading the New Jersey Devils 2-1. As it stands the Carolina Hurricanes would be back in the playoffs for the first time in a decade. It would be the most strenuous 20 minutes of the season for the Canes.
Petr Mrazek had to turn away shot after shot for the Devils, and with every save the playoffs edged ever closer. Mrazek just needed to shut the door. Save after save on shot after shot, the Canes held onto their 1 goal lead. Until the newest Hurricane made it a 2 goal lead.
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A loose pass from the Devils resulted in Justin Williams picking the puck up. He moved it over to Brett Pesce. Pesce chipped it forward and El Nino made no mistake. Nino Niederreiter made it 3-1 with time running out, and it looked all but certain. Niederreiter had put the Canes in a strong position to win this game.
With 14 seconds left in Raleigh, the clock in Washington his 0:00. Montreal had lost, Carolina needed to see out the final 14 seconds, and they would see the playoffs for the first time in 10 years. Time ticking down, 10 seconds left, then 5, and 4, and 3, and 2. Time had never felt so slow, but the clock hit 0:00. Carolina was going back into the playoffs.
For the first time since 2009, Carolina was going back to post-season. No one was going to stop the Canes this time. No heart-breaking loss like in 2011 to be knocked out towards the end of the season. No one would halt the surging Hurricanes this time. Carolina locked up the 1st wild card spot and would go on an incredible run. But that is a story for a different time.