Friday, April 24, 2009

It's The Playoffs, Stupid - Airport Rally, Take 2

Cam Ward allowed just one of 42 shots on goal to get by him Thursday night as the Canes took on the Devils in Game 5. One shot from the point through a screen and deflected at the last millisecond. One goal. Which was exactly one more than Marty Brodeur allowed at the other end. And now the Canes are in the unenviable position of facing elimination with the Devils up 3 games to 2 in the series.

Considering the number of first class scoring chances generated by both teams this could have very easily been a 6-5 game. Between them the two teams put 86 shots on goal (44-42 with the edge to Carolina). And the highlight reel will be an end to end progression of "He-did-what??" saves from both goaltenders.

It wasn't the outcome we expected, and certainly not the one we wanted, but a group of True Believers still gathered to pay homage as the team landed at RDU International at 12:50 a.m.. But this time -- to their credit -- the airport authority was prepared for us. And in a good way. It seems that a lot of back channel conversations took place since the last episode (recounted here) and the RDU Airport Authority decided it was easier and better for all concerned if they worked with us than trying to chase us off. (As a postscript to that... "encounter" we did get a shout out from Mike Sundheim, the team's Media Relations Manager, here.)

I give the RDU folks full marks too. They didn't stop at just letting us hang out in their airport, they opened up Park and Ride Lot #2 -- normally only open on holidays as an overflow lot -- for us to use and even put out signs along the road directing arriving fans to the lot. (Granted, the signs weren't very big and easy to miss, but they were there and that's the point.)

As a veteran of the Greensboro Days (the Hurricanes' celebrated "Black Period") I grew to hate the phrase "small but enthusiastic crowd", and I'd really hoped for a better turnout than there was. But after all, it was a weeknight and we'd just lost a tough game and yada-yada. So by the time the plane touched down there were only about 50 of us on hand.

By all reports I've heard from fans in other NHL cities, that's about 50 more than you'd see in most places though. Even in the "traditional" hockey markets it seems this isn't a common practice. Canes players who have come here from places like Montreal, Detroit, Chicago... they're always amazed by the phenomenon. Then again, I'm not sure I'd be all that keen about hanging out at the far end of O'Hare in the middle of the night. Could be hazardous to your health.

For their part the team had that grim-faced look that guys who've just lost a tough game always have. I've always wondered how they feel about it when they have to run the gauntlet of fans after a loss. Does it pick them up or would they rather pass on the festivities? I don't know about the players, but the Canes GM Jim Rutherford actually stopped his car as he made the turn onto the road and thanked the folks standing along the curb for coming out.

But perhaps the greatest quote of the night came from one of the airport police officers who's been on hand for both of this year's events. As we were leaving, he said, "Thanks for being so compliant."

I had to laugh.

Of course there are pictures!

For a full-sized slideshow (that you can slow down), go here.

Violence UnSilenced
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