The Toronto Maple Leafs are celebrating 100 years of the NHL with a rare mid-afternoon game on Tuesday, and they’ll do so wearing a modern replica of the original Arenas’ sweaters.
The NHL is no stranger to celebrating its rich history, having done so in various ways over the years, which is why it seemed a little strange that Toronto’s opponent for Tuesday’s game would be the Carolina Hurricanes, of all teams.
It’s not that the Hurricanes don’t have traditions – Sports Illustrated ranked their goal horn third in the league back in April, and their “Caniac” fan base is known for creating a great atmosphere, when it shows up – but that the Leafs would play a team that isn’t quite old, and yet not that new either seemed odd.
Until you do a little bit of digging, and realize that since moving from Hartford in time for the 1997-98 season, the Hurricanes have made quite a habit out of getting in the way of NHL history.
Carolina’s 2002 playoff run
Carolina had no playoff series wins to its name heading into 2001-02, where the Hurricanes took advantage of a weak Southeast Division to get the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference despite finishing the year with 91 points (That total would have placed Carolina seventh in the conference, had the NHL not given the top three spots to division winners automatically).
Yet, despite the prevailing thought that the Southeast-winning Hurricanes would bow out early like they had in 1999 when they fell in six games to the Bruins, something clicked in Raleigh and a surprise playoff run was born – much to the dismay of NHL traditionalists.
Their incredible run went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, where they fell in five games to the Detroit Red Wings, and while everyone loves an underdog, imagine if Carolina had just gotten out of the way here.
Due to goaltender Arturs Irbe (who retired with a career save percentage of .899) going on the run of his life and the “BBC” line of Bates Battaglia, Rod Brind’Amour and Erik Cole taking off, the Hurricanes stumped the Leafs in the conference final and prevented an Original Six Cup Final matchup between two historical rivals.
Worse, Carolina’s second-round win over Jose Theodore and the Montreal Canadiens prevented a Leafs-Canadiens East final that would have been the first playoff meeting between the two teams since 1979. They still haven’t met in the post-season since.
Taking out Bruins, falling flat against Penguins
The 2008-09 Boston Bruins were a force. Tim Thomas led the league in save percentage, Phil Kessel broke out with 36 goals and the team had depth down the middle in the form of a healthy Marc Savard, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron.
The team steamrolled its arch rival in Round 1 of the playoffs, sweeping the Canadiens in a series that had a 21-year-old Carey Price getting jeered by his own fans.
In Round 2, while Sidney Crosby and his Penguins were facing off in a classic series against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, Boston drew our lovable Hurricanes. You can guess what happened next.
In what could have been a great conference final matchup between Pittsburgh (looking to go to the Cup Final for the second straight year), and those unstoppable-looking Bruins, we instead got the Hurricanes looking overmatched against a better opponent.
If the Penguins had actually had to work in the ECF, rather than breeze through in four games, perhaps the Red Wings would have become the first team to win back-to-back titles since they themselves did it in 1998.
Ruining Edmonton’s magic
You’d think a franchise that had somewhat recently gone on a Cinderella run of its own would know when to just enjoy the show, but in 2006 the Hurricanes played spoiler, crushing what would have been one of the greatest underdog stories in league history by beating the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final.
Edmonton was attempting to become the league’s first eight-seed to win it all (something the Los Angeles Kings would accomplish in 2012), and had upset the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Red Wings in the first round before getting by the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks for their first Cup Final appearance since 1990.
Carolina was actually good this year, finishing with 112 points and earning the two-seed in the East.
Chris Pronger, Dwayne Roloson and Michael Peca were all playing great for the Oilers, but the true surprise of the playoffs was Fernando Pisani channelling his inner Irbe and playing better than he ever had in his life.
Pisani scored 14 goals in 24 games during the 2006 post-season (he’d never score more than 18 in a regular season throughout his career), and led the charge as the Oilers fought off a 3-1 series deficit to force a seventh game.
In the end, it was all for naught, as the Hurricanes ruined what would have been an incredible story by closing the deal at home.
Honourable mention: Their existence as a whole
This might seem harsh, but when the Hartford Whalers left town, they took with them one of the NHL’s best set of uniforms – and what is also considered by certain folks to be a really classic goal tune – with them.
We’re not here to judge whether or not Carolina can support an NHL franchise – with an ownership situation that’s finally seeing some resolution, perhaps better days are ahead for the club.
But still, with meek attendance numbers, it’s hard not to wonder what would happen should the team move to Quebec City.
The Nordiques-Canadiens rivalry was one of the league’s most vicious, and entertaining. If the Hurricanes weren’t so darn insistent on existing in Carolina, who knows how many fiery matchups we’d have been treated to by now, and in the future?
The NHL has a rich history, filled with many classic moments worth celebrating. But there’d be even more, if it weren’t for the pesky Hurricanes.