In the weeks leading up to the playoffs, the Florida Panthers were still in the race. The Florida Panthers, one of the year's feel-good stories, who were finally going to see playoff action again.
The Florida Panthers, who had stuck with star Jay Bouwmeester instead of trading him for future prospects, just because they believed that this was the year that they make a playoff run.
And Carolina ruined that.
Instead of falling out of the playoff race, the Hurricanes came storming back, winning nine of their final eleven games, including an overtime win over those Florida Panthers. But that's okay.
As nice as it would have been to see the Panthers make the playoffs, none of us had delusions of Bouwmeester and company hoisting the Stanley Cup. The team was just too young and too shaky.
There were a handful of favorites in the Eastern Conference, but come playoff time, who bets against the Devils? Martin Brodeur, Patrick Elias, and John Madden were the experienced core of a team that had found some stellar youth in Zach Parise, Brian Gionta and Travis Zajac.
Clearly, the Devils were a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference. And Carolina dared to reckon with them.
Because Carolina doesn't know how the hockey playoffs are supposed to work.
Game Four was a perfect example. When two teams who have already played two consecutive overtimes are tied with under one second left in regulation, you're supposed to go to another overtime game.
And while we're on the subject, you're supposed respect a future Hall of Famer's space, even if it is outside the crease.
But Jussi Jokinen and the Canes were uninterested in what was supposed to happen. Jokinen bumped Brodeur as the goalie came out to cut off the angle, then tipped in a point shot with 0.2 seconds left to tie the series.
Okay, fine, the Canes got lucky. It happens.
But, in Game Seven, you sure as hell better believe that the future Hall of Famer is going to beat you. Especially when that future Hall of Famer has a 3-2 lead with less than 90 seconds to go.
But Jokinen (again) put the puck in the net, sending the game to overtime. Because that's what's supposed to happen when you score a tying goal with under two minutes to go
You regroup and go to the locker room and come out in OT and play your heart out. Except the game didn't go into overtime.
Because Eric Staal decided to make the game's greatest goaltender look like a rookie. Eric Staal wasn't supposed to do that.
But fine. Cinderella got to have her fun at the ball, but the clock had struck midnight.
The most successful team in the East, based out of the most successful sports city in America this millennium, was writing its own story.
After years and years of mediocrity, one of the Original Six was not simply back in the mix, but was looking to plow through the East and capture their first Cup since 1972. The Boston Bruins would power through the series with this displaced team from Hartford, right?
Except Carolina, once again, didn't know its role. The Canes took a commanding 3-1 series lead, only to let Boston creep back into the series.
At which point, we all realized that the Bruins were simply writing one of the interesting chapters in the storybook season, where they would come back from being down 3-1 in the series and ride that momentum all the way to the Finals. You know, kind of like when the Red Sox came back from being down 3-0 to the Yankees.
In the midst of all this, Scott Walker punched Aaron Ward in the face. And he was supposed to get suspended.
And he was supposed to claim it was all part of the game. And he was supposed to be entirely forgotten, the end.
Except he didn't get suspended. And he didn't claim it was part of the game.
Instead, he apologized and apologized. And he made sure the city of Boston would not forget the name Scott Walker.
In overtime of Game Seven, Walker hit the rebound of a Ray Whitney shot out of mid-air, past Tim Thomas and into the cage, sending yet another Stanley Cup contender on an early vacation.
What have we learned about the Carolina Hurricanes? They don't care what they are supposed to do.
They don't care about the league's feel-good stories. They don't care that a team from North Carolina isn't supposed to be taken seriously come playoff time.
The Canes write their own story, and they write it just the way they want it to be written. They play physical, they play rough, and they play close games.
They aren't afraid to leave a one-goal lead in the hands of 25 year-old Cam Ward. They aren't afraid to call upon anyone to win the game, whether it's Eric Staal, Jussi Jokinen, or that guy who punched Aaron Ward in the face.
Maybe it's too much of a cliche, but doesn't it feel like this team is winning on heart?
No one can predict what is going to happen in the upcoming series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but one thing is for sure:
Sidney Crosby's Penguins are supposed to win. They got the new coach who turned the team around, they beat their bitter rival in dramatic and decisive fashion, and their captain is proving that he deserves all the recognition in the world. It's pretty much the Mighty Ducks movies, with a different bird.
But, I wouldn't be surprised if the Hurricanes decided they have a right to ruin all that, too. And that's what you've got to love about the team.