The 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs didn’t turn out at all like most of us thought they would. Conventional wisdom had the teams with the best two records during the regular season reaching the Finals. They didn’t. The Detroit Red Wings were KO’d in the opening round; Ottawa fell in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
What hockey diehards were left with, when the conference finales were over, were two squads of overachievers with not a puck’s worth of marquee value on the North American sports stage between them. The Edmonton Oilers versus the Carolina Hurricanes. Might as well have been Frick and Frack, as far as the casual viewer the NHL hoped to attract was concerned.
Didn’t matter. True hockey fans tuned in and were treated to a stretched-to-the-limit series that pitted the “old school” grind ’n hit Oilers against the speedy “new NHL” Hurricanes. And outstanding goaltending by rookie backstops Jussi Markkanen of Edmonton and Cam Ward of Carolina. Seven games. ’Canes go up three games to one. Oilers square series. ’Canes thrill their Caniacs with a 3-1 victory in the seventh game. Cup remains in the South. Canada groans. Doesn’t get any better than that.
No wonder Rod Brind ’Amour couldn’t wait to get his sore fingers on Lord Stanley’s Cup. The ’Canes captain, without a Cup for 16 years, picked up the gleaming trophy and hoisted it skyward while NHL president Gary Bettman was still congratulating Brind ’Amour and Company.
First the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now the Carolina Hurricanes.
The South has risen — again.