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If Carolina's shocking 2005-06 regular season seems familiar, well, that's because it is.
After several years of underachieving, the Carolina Hurricanes went on a Cinderella run in the 2002 playoffs - upsetting New Jersey Devils, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Blue Jays along the way, before succumbing to the dynamite Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals.
The Carolina Hurricanes failed to build on that success, and it missed the playoffs the next two campaigns. After the lockout, nobody gave the Hurricanes much of chance at the start of the regular season, and most pundits predicted they would finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
However, a funny thing happened at the start of the season: the Hurricanes deviated from the script and won 12 of their first 15 games and quickly established themselves as one of the teams to beat in the East.
Buoyed by the offensive explosion of second-year forward Eric Staal and the solid goaltending of Martin Gerber, the Carolina Hurricanes showed its early season form was no fluke. The squad won nine games in a row after the Christmas break and lost only one of 14 contests in January to solidify its place at the upper echelon of the NHL standings.
Carolina romped to the Southeast Division title, 10 points ahead of defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay - and finished one point back of Ottawa for first place in the Eastern Conference. Now, the Carolina Hurricanes were ready to repeat their 2002 playoff success.
In the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Carolina lost the first two Eastern Conference Quarterfinal games at home against the Montreal Canadiens, and there was a strong possibility that the Hurricanes' excellent season would come to a sudden end. Coach Laviolette made what would prove to be a fateful decision, lifting goalkeeper Martin Gerber in favor of rookie Cam Ward. A potential turning point of the series occurred in Game 3, as Carolina forward Justin Williams inadvertently hit Montreal captain Saku Koivu in the eye with his stick from behind as both players lunged for the puck. Koivu's eye was severely injured, causing him to miss the remainder of the series; Williams escaped a potential high-sticking penalty. The Hurricanes went on to win both games in Montreal, tying up the playoff series and turn the momentum around. They returned home and took Game 5 to take a 3-2 advantage in the series, and finished the series in Montreal with a 2-1 overtime victory on a goal by Cory Stillman.
After defeating the Montreal Canadies, the Carolina Hurricanes went on to beat the New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. It commenced on June 5, 2006 as the Hurricanes hosted the Edmonton Oilers in Raleigh, marking the first time in NHL history that two former WHA franchises had played in the Finals. The Canes rallied from a 3-0 deficit in Game 1 to win 5-4 after Rod Brind'Amour scored with 30 seconds left on a turnover, a critical stickhandling error by Oilers backup goalie Ty Conklin, who had replaced the injured starter Dwayne Roloson with five minutes to play.
In Game 2, the other Edmonton reserve goaltender, Jussi Markkanen was brought in and played for the remainder of the series, the first time a team had used three goalies in the Finals since the St. Louis Blues in 1970. The Canes shelled Markkanen and the Oilers 5-0 in Game 2, with each goal coming from a different player, and the series threatened to turn into a romp. However, the series would eventually prove to be a classic nail-bitter, as Markkanen and the Oilers made adjustments.
The Oilers won Game 3, 2-1, as Ryan Smyth scored the game winning goal with 2:47 left to play in the third period. In the same game, the Oilers' Shawn Horcoff, who had scored the first goal in that game, was penalized for using a broken stick. Carolina rebounded in Game 4 with a 2-1 victory, and came home with a chance to win the Cup on home ice. However, in Game 5, the Oilers came back with a stunning 4-3 overtime win on a shorthanded breakaway by Fernando Pisani early in sudden death OT. Suddenly the momentum started to turn the Oilers' way. In Game 6, Carolina was soundly defeated 4-0, and the possibility loomed of a team surrendering a 3-1 advantage in the Finals for the first time since 1942. The ace in the deck for the Hurricanes was their home ice advantage in Game 7, and one last chance to regroup.
In Game 7, before the second-largest home crowd in franchise history (18,978), the Hurricanes jumped to an early 1-0 lead on an Aaron Ward blast from the right circle at 1:26. They nearly made it 2-0 in the waning minutes of the first period, when Craig Adams corraled a rebound and drove it toward the net. Defenseman Steve Staios jumped on the puck to keep it from going over the line after a mistimed tip by Ales Hemsky. Referee Brad Watson initially signaled for a penalty shot, but it was washed out by a delayed penalty on Ethan Moreau. Later video replays showed that the puck was actually in the net, and therefore should have been a goal for the Hurricanes. Instead, the Hurricanes began the second period on a power play. The Oilers managed to kill it off, but weren't so lucky when Jaroslav Spacek drew a holding penalty later in the period. At 4:18, defenseman Frantisek Kaberle blasted one in from the left circle. Edmonton finally got on the board early in the third period on a Pasani goal. The game remained in doubt until the Oilers pulled Markkanen in hopes of sending the game into overtime. However, at 18:59 of the period, an errant centering pass wound up on the stick of Bret Hedican, who dumped it to Eric Staal, who tipped it to Justin Williams. Williams tapped it into the net, sealing the Hurricanes' first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history.
Cam Ward was honored with the Conn Smythe Trophy for the playoffs' most valuable player. He became just the 4th rookie to be honored with the award, along with Patrick Roy, Ron Hextall, and Ken Dryden. Rod Brind'Amour and Bret Hedican had both waited over 15 years to raise Lord Stanley's cup, while Glen Wesley - the last remaining Hartford Whaler on the Hurricanes' roster - had waited 18 seasons. Brind'Amour could hardly contain his joy, doing a little jig as he kissed and hoisted the Cup over his head.
The Hurricanes' Stanley Cup Championship marked the first professional major league sports title for a team from the Carolinas. They are the second consecutive Southeast Division team to do so, after the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003-2004 who, like the Hurricanes, defeated a team from the Northwest Division.
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