RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes’ season finale Saturday at PNC Arena was full of emotions.
It started with a moment of silence, followed by a rendition of “Oh, Canada” as a tribute to those killed and injured in the Humboldt Broncos’ bus crash the day before. It was the first NHL game for Nicolas Roy, recalled to fill in for an injured Brock McGinn.
And it was possibly the last game for several Hurricanes — most notably goaltender Cam Ward, but also a locker room full of players with uncertain futures thanks to a proclamation from new owner Tom Dundon that there is a need for roster changes.
On the ice, there was little for the Hurricanes to play for outside of pride, yet they still managed to end the season on a high note with a 3-2 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in front of 15,402 in Raleigh.
Hurricanes defenseman Haydn Fleury fed a pass to a streaking Teuvo Teravainen, who dished the puck wide to Elias Lindholm for a one-timer that beat Lightning goalie Louis Domingue just 49 seconds into overtime to give Carolina the win.
“You’ve seen numerous OTs we’ve been really good on and haven’t got the result,” coach Bill Peters said of the overtime winner. “… Next you thing you know, Fleury makes a great play — hasn’t played a lot in OT — makes a great play to find it looks like Teravainen late, and then Lindy finished it.
“So really good way to end, and that’s win No. 318 of Wardo’s career. So good for him.”
Ward’s win could be his last in Carolina. He will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and while not the main problem in net — that would be Scott Darling and the three years, $11.85 million remaining on the contract he signed last summer — the fact remains he is the one constant in the team’s nine-year playoff drought.
“The uncertainty and unknown of what’s going to happen, it can be scary at times,” Ward said. “I try to control what I can control. I’ve kind of learned that throughout my career, that those things are kind of out of your own hands, just control what you can do on the ice and help this team win.
“And it was a different role for me this year,” Ward (32 saves) continued. “I love playing with Scott. He’s a great guy. We were hoping we were going to be the tandem to get to the playoffs, and obviously, that didn’t happen.”
For a night, however, the Hurricanes were a match for one of the top Stanley Cup contenders.
Jordan Staal — announced earlier in the day as the winner of both the Steve Chiasson Award (chosen by teammates as the team’s most dedicated player) and Joe Vasicek Award (chosen by the Carolina chapter of the PHWA for cooperation with the media) and already Carolina’s nominee for the Masterton Trophy — got Carolina on the board early.
Just 19 seconds into the game, Staal’s centering pass redirected in off the skate of the Lightning’s Ondrej Palat to make it 1-0.
Then with 2:24 left in the period, his linemate Justin Williams stretched the lead to two when he put the puck in a vacant net from the side boards after Phil Di Giuseppe was pushed into a sprawling Domingue by defenseman Dan Girardi. Tampa Bay challenged the goal, but it was upheld.
The Lightning cut the lead in half early in the second period. Ryan Callahan got his fifth goal of the season, wristing a shot thru a screen by teammate Cedric Paquette and Carolina defenseman Klas Dahlbeck to make it 2-1 at 3:30 of the middle frame.
Palat made up for his earlier own goal, one-timing a pass from J.T. Miller alone at the right circle with 8:49 remaining in regulation to tie the game.
Peters pointed to that goal, along with an overtime stop by Domingue on Jaccob Slavin, as “here we go again” moments that reminded him of the team’s struggles throughout the season.
“We needed to win the games like tonight,” Peters said when asked about his reflections on the year. “Two-one game, we’re trying to do the right thing on the game-tying goal, handing off a stick. Probably won’t go get a stick next time, right?”
This time, however, the Hurricanes found a way to finish the game in overtime and earn the extra point for a final 36-35-11 record — good for just sixth in the Metropolitan Division and 14 points behind wild card winners Columbus and New Jersey.
It is also the end of an era. Dundon will surely want to shake up a team that underperformed again, especially after removing Ron Francis as general manager. The futures of Ward, Peters and several others — Jeff Skinner? Justin Faulk? Scott Darling? — are all certainly up in the air.
For a moment, the Hurricanes were able to feel the thrill victory after another season of agony. The next three or four months might not be so kind.
Notes: Roy drew two penalties in his NHL debut. He was one of four players, along with Fleury, Roland McKeown and Valentin Zykov, to be reassigned to the Charlotte Checkers following the game. … The Checkers clinched a playoff berth with their win Saturday. … The Hurricanes had eight players finish with at least 15 goals.