04/15/09 — Opinion -- Canes mid-season changes paying off

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Opinion -- Canes mid-season changes paying off

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on April 15, 2009 1:46 PM

In the midst of firing a head coach that had delivered a championship and a mid-season five-game losing streak the playoffs once seemed like a goal that had faded beyond the horizon for the Carolina Hurricanes.

Carolina fired former head coach Peter Laviolette after starting the season 12-11-2 including losing nine out of 16 games in November.

Former Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice was hired to replace Laviolette and Carolina has gone 33-19-5 since then.

The Hurricanes lost five out of seven games entering the All-Star break but finished the regular season by winning 13 of their last 18.

The trade deadline deal to return Eric Cole, a key component to Carolina's championship season of 2006, to the Hurricanes from Edmonton has paid major dividends.

Eric Staal, Carolina's leading scorer, scored 12 of his 40 goals - with 13 assists - in the 17 games after the trade reunited Staal and Cole on Carolina's first line.

Carolina begins its first trip to the postseason since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006 tonight at New Jersey. The Hurricanes won three out of four games against the Devils during the regular season.

The series marks the fourth time Carolina and New Jersey have met in the postseason with the winner reaching the Stanley Cup finals in each of the three previous meetings.

The Devils have struggled to slow a Hurricanes power play that finished ranked 18th in the NHL during the regular season. Carolina was 7-for-16 on the power play against New Jersey this season. The Hurricanes scored

only four goals when the teams were at even strength.

Carolina began scoring more down the stretch averaging nearly four goals a game in its last 18 contests. The offense reached its pinnacle in a nine-goal outburst against the New York Islanders on April 7.

The cornerstone behind the Hurricanes late-season surge has been goaltender Cam Ward. Ward set a franchise record with 39 victories this season and finished 13-2-2 over his last 17 games.

The 25-year-old Saskatoon, Canada native went 3-0 against New Jersey this season with a 1.67 goals against per game average.

Along with a thriving offense and a confident goaltender Carolina has a growing home-ice advantage and a budding fan base in its corner.

The Hurricanes won 12 of their final 13 home games to close the regular season and went 10-4 at the RBC Center during the 2006 postseason on their way to a Stanley Cup.

Three months ago the Carolina Hurricanes had been all but written off as playoff contenders.

After battling through a tumultuous start they now have a chance to write yet another storybook ending to what's shaping up to be one memorable season.