RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Game 6 was do-or-die for Carolina. A tightly contested game opened up for the Hurricanes as they scored thrice in the third period to beat the Capitals 5-2 and force a Game 7 in Washington on Wednesday.
The heroics came from everywhere in the lineup and were aided by a bit of luck. Jordan Staal got a handle of a puck pinballing around in front of the net and Justin Williams got a stick on an innocent Brett Pesce dump in as the Hurricanes turned a 2-2 tie into a 4-2 lead a little beyond the halfway mark of the third.
Yes, luck almost always plays a part in postseason success, but the Hurricanes also earned their luck. They were forechecking hard, beating the Capitals to loose pucks, and outworking Washington along the boards.
Carolina was playing like there was no tomorrow because tomorrow — or rather, another game this season — wasn’t guaranteed.
“There’s no tomorrow,” said head coach Rod Brind’Amour. “Having a tomorrow is sometimes a disadvantage. We didn’t have a tomorrow (in Game 6). You lay it all on the line. … It was our advantage (Monday) knowing we didn’t have that.”
There’s not a lot of playoff experience on the Carolina roster, and there are even fewer players well versed in Game 7s. The Hurricanes do, however, have one of the top Game 7 performers in NHL history in Williams.
“It’s valuable to have guys that have been there before. We don’t have a ton of those, but we do have Mr. Game 7, if you want to call him that,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s nice for the young guys to look across the room and see a guy who’s approaching the game the same way.”
“Mr. Game 7” is a moniker Williams began to earn during his first stint with the Hurricanes. In Carolina’s run to the Stanley Cup in 2006, Williams assisted on Brind’Amour’s go-ahead goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against Buffalo. He also scored an insurance goal to make it 4-2 in the final minute of regulation.
Williams later famously scored an empty-net goal to secure the championship in Game 7 against Edmonton. He cemented himself as “Mr. Game 7” in leading Los Angeles to its first two Stanley Cups in franchise history.
Williams said his key is that he doesn’t change his approach whether it’s Game 1 or Game 7.
The Hurricanes played Monday like a team backed into a corner. Game 7 will be very much the same for them. Monday’s win prolonged their season by one more game, but they still need to earn another “tomorrow,” as Brind’Amour said.
“We want to win. There’s pressure on both sides. It’s fun. This is why you play. This is why we train,” Brind’Amour said. “This is why the guys do what they do all year and in the summer — to have these chances and opportunities.
“These are the games you remember. You don’t remember all the games in the regular season. This is a chance to make a moment. That’s why it’s so special.”
Nothing will come easy Wednesday as the Hurricanes learned in a 6-0 loss in Game 5 in Washington. The likes of Williams and Staal proved in Game 6 how valuable their veteran experience can be, but Washington has a roster full of players with similar experience.
Carolina hasn’t had a guaranteed “tomorrow” and now the Capitals won’t either. A young, hungry Hurricanes group not ready for the ride to end goes up against the reigning champions who are keen on repeating.
Only one will earn another “tomorrow.”