05/28/09 — OPINION - Hurricanes ran out of ammo

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OPINION - Hurricanes ran out of ammo

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on May 28, 2009 1:46 PM

The Carolina Hurricanes ran out of stones for their slingshot. After slaying the greatest goalie in NHL history and the Eastern Conference's top seed, the Hurricanes suffered a four-game sweep against 2008 Stanley Cup runner-up Pittsburgh.

That silver lining might be hard to see for Carolina and its fans right now.

A slow start to the season, the firing of Stanley Cup-winning head coach Peter Laviolette and a string of injuries had the Hurricanes all but written off by January.

Instead, the club continued to overcome and overachieve. The hiring of former skipper Paul Maurice and the trade-deadline deal to return Erik Cole to Raleigh was an integral part of Carolina's 33-19-5 finish to the regular season.

After dropping Game 1 in playoff series against New Jersey and Boston, the "Cardiac Canes" gutted out dramatic wins in a pair of Game 7's on the road.

There was the thrilling finish to Game 7 in New Jersey when the Hurricanes rallied from a 3-2 deficit with a pair of goals in the final 80 seconds. Despite being the NHL's leader in career wins, Devils' goalie Martin Brodeur seemed incredibly human during the closing seconds of Game 7.

After watching a 3-1 series lead evaporate in the second round, Scott Walker delivered an overtime winner in Game 7 in Boston. Walker choked back emotion in a post-game interview after his first career playoff goal. He revealed in the days that followed his wife had been diagnosed with cervical cancer.

The Hurricanes joined the 2003 Minnesota Wild as the only franchises in NHL history to win consecutive Game 7's on the road in the same postseason.

The toll of a pair of grinding seven-game series was glaringly evident against Pittsburgh. Carolina's defense was overmatched against the Penguins' offensive duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Injuries, including goalie Cam Ward's ailing back, played a factor along with a sputtering offense. Eric Staal, who signed a $58 million dollar contract extension before the season, mustered just one goal against Pittsburgh.

After combining for 15 goals in the first two rounds of the playoffs, Staal, Ray Whitney, Walker, Rod Brind'Amour, Cole and Tuomo Ruutu collectively found the back of the net just once in the conference finals.

Noticeably absent were the offensive weapons the Hurricanes had in their arsenal en route to winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. The trades for veteran center Doug Weight and right winger Mark Recchi, neither of which are still with the Hurricanes, paid major dividends during the '06 postseason.

Finding a playmaker to go along side Staal is a need that may or may not become a reality for Carolina in the offseason. Revamping a defense that got out-skated by the Penguins should be atop the Hurricanes' offseason "to-do" list.

However, with 17 players under contract for next season, there won't be a lot of wiggle room for general manager Jim Rutherford.

Carolina returned to the postseason this year after becoming the first team in league history to miss the playoffs in each of the next two seasons after winning the Stanley Cup. Avoiding a similar playoff drought next season will be key to the organization's strides for sustained success.

The sting of having an unforgettable postseason run fall short will linger for quite some time in the Triangle. The sense of accomplishing more than most around the league ever thought possible should stick around for much, much longer.