Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It's The Playoffs, Stupid - "There Will Be Caniacs"

The playoff series between Carolina and New Jersey is one that simply had to go to seven games. There's just no other way that a series this completely even could end. And it's not just that the series is tied at 3-3. It's been a dead heat in virtually every aspect. Both teams have had one game in which they pretty much laid an egg (Game 1 for Carolina, and Game 6 for New Jersey). Total goals for the series are 13-12 (favoring Carolina), total shots on goal are 208-207 (also favoring Carolina). New Jersey has been slightly more efficient (2-for-23) than the Canes (2-for-25) on the power play, but both teams have only 2 power play goals to show for the series. Even faceoff percentage -- customarily a category the Hurricanes carry a significant advantage in -- is almost even (less than a 1% difference). Both teams have won a game on the road, both goaltenders have a shutout and neither team has managed back-to-back wins to date.

In summary, Game 7 is a toss up. It will, in all probability, be decided by a bounce, a deflection, an untimely lost edge or penalty. What we've had through the first six games is a bout between two heavyweight fighters measuring each other out, knowing that to win they'll have to deliver (and avoid) a knockout.

Even stylistically the two mirror each other with the top lines virtually canceled out by the top defense pairs. Every goal -- nay, every puck -- has been contested with neither team willing to give any quarter. There hasn't been anything even close to a "soft" goal through six games -- every one of them has come hard. And even though the Devils have a guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Famer minding their goal, he's been matched virtually save-for-save by the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner at the other end.

Does it get any better than this? I submit that it does not. And even though I am very much not a Devils fan, in a way it's a shame that either team has to lose this series. But after tonight, one group will be moving on and the other will be teeing off. Which will be doing which won't be settled until the final horn sounds.

One thing -- possibly the only thing -- that is certain is that when the Hurricanes arrive at RDU International a gathering of True Believers will await them. A win will bring out a larger crowd obviously, but win or lose There Will Be Caniacs. Count on it.
How do I know this? Well I can tell you there will be at least one all-weather fan there sporting the number 11 on his white CCM replica sweater. And if I'm there by myself, so be it. But I won't be alone. Because I know Caniacs, and I've seen how they are firsthand. So grab a cuppa, and I'll tell you a little story, and then you'll see why I'm so confident about the landing party.

Only two guys still on the current roster (Rod Brind'Amour and Niclas Wallin) were playing with the Canes back in the 2001 East Quarterfinal, but I'm betting neither of them have forgotten the deciding game of that series. Neither have the other two former players (Ron Francis and Glen Wesley) still with the organization who were on the roster then. (Although Francis's memory of that day might be a little fuzzy since he'd been concussed by Scott Stevens earlier). The opponent was (who else?) New Jersey, the top seed in the East that year. The Canes were not just the 8th seed, they weren't expected to win a game in the series. And for a while it looked as though they wouldn't. They spotted the Devils a 3-0 series lead and looked like they were headed for the golf course without much of a fight. But sometime in between Games 3 and 4 somebody found the ignition switch and the good guys came roaring back with a win at home in Game 4 and a surprise win in New Jersey in Game 5. Suddenly they were right back in it -- though still facing a double match point.

The glass slipper would shatter back home in Raleigh in Game 6 though. The Devils won the game 5-1 and the series 4-2. But what happened in that decisive Game 6 was something I still can't explain, and still gives me chills any time I think about it.

With something like 5 minutes remaining in the season for the home team and a 5-1 deficit on the scoreboard, the fans got on their feet -- but it wasn't to head for the exits. Almost as if it were prearranged, a standing ovation of legendary proportion (and decibel level) began, and the chant "Let's Go Canes!" nearly lifted the roof off the building then known as the ESA. The final 5 minutes were played in an environment that would become famous the next spring. So loud that the players on the ice couldn't hear the whistle and the players on the bench couldn't hear each other. When the final seconds had ticked off and the handshake lines began, an observer that had just tuned in would have thought the home team had pulled off another miracle finish. And it wasn't until the last player left the ice that the noise level subsided. It was a phenomenon that's still mentioned in reverent tones among the Believers. And I'm not sure, but it may have been that day that the word "Caniac" was coined.

So will there be Caniacs at RDU tonight? Win or lose, you can take it to the bank.

There Will Be Caniacs.

Violence UnSilenced
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Cheffie-Mom said...

Could you be a hockey fan by any chance? Great writing - I felt like I was there!

Mojo said...

@Cheffie: What gave me away?

ROSIDAH said...

I have no idea what gave you away ;). Great photos, too!

Sparky said...

Being an athlete all my life, it's THAT kind of sportsmanship that makes me realize why I love sports. That post almost makes me want to learn to like Hockey - almost.

Good luck tonight!