As I recover from the high of winning last night’s Draft Lottery and deciding if I should be #TeamHughes or #TeamKaapo, the NHL playoffs commence tonight. Yeah, the New Jersey Devils aren’t in it this year, and that sucks, especially since I placed a few preseason bets that they’d make the playoffs which weren’t some of my smartest gambling choices. Yeah, that’s money down the drain, but I accept Venmo donations if any of you DAB readers are feeling generous (just kidding… I only accept cold hard cash.)
There’s one very simple reason I’m picking the Hurricanes as the team that has won my (temporary) support: they’re different. Most of the rest of the playoff field is the usual suspects coming out of Pittsburgh, San Jose and Boston, along with the all too destined to win the cup Tampa Bay Lightning (plot twist, they won’t). After years of not necessarily being bad, but being irrelevant, the Canes came back strong and made hockey fun to watch for every reason imaginable.
Undoubtedly, it was hard for Carolina to break ties with their franchise goaltender Cam Ward this past offseason, but his departure let newly appointed head coach Rod Brind’Amour, which is about as fun as a French-Canadian name is to say, usher in a new era of Hurricanes hockey. This is a team that no longer looks back with satisfaction at the 2006 cup run, but is eager and hungry to move forward towards the next championship.
Defense wins championships, and the Canes have got an underrated defense that make them a low-lying threat. Goaltenders Petr Mzarek and Curtis McElhinney, which I’m pretty sure is also the name of the guy who plays Mac on “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” but whatever, may not be the next legend like Marty Brodeur, or scene stealing like their predecessor Ward, but after a rocky beginning to the year, they’ve backstopped the Canes this far.
Now I’m not going to lie, part of the reason I love the Canes is because of the hate they received, especially for their unconventional “storm surge” celebrations. “Oh, they’re a hockey team, they shouldn’t be wheeling out basketball hoops while playing the video game ‘duck Hunt’ with their sticks while the crowd cheers!” Really? That’s what they said about Cirque du Solei and in arena show girls in Vegas and now they have the most exciting hockey city in North America (don’t even fight me on this, the most exciting hockey city is not Chicago. Chicago has snow and a poor imitation of pizza. Vegas has magical tigers, partying and all you can eat buffets are far as the eye can see).
The Canes smashed the mold of “one size fits all hockey” that the Vegas Golden Knights began to chip away at and hockey purists just loved. The tradition of a stick salute on the way to the dressing room might be only as much fun as Montreal likes to have, but in an unlikely hockey market like North Carolina, it’s gotten everyone excited for their first postseason appearance in a decade. Why be boring when you can be exciting? Glad Carolina finally realized that. Okay, maybe UNC being knocked out of the NCAA tournament had a slight thing to do with the revival of interest in Carolina hockey, but let’s enjoy this while it lasts.
So yes, I’m rooting for the Canes because they’re fun to watch. There’s no advanced stats behind this, or any careful analytical conclusions behind it. I just want to see a fresh face go out there, have some fun, and put the rest of the NHL on notice.