Hurricanes, fans building momentum

Carolina hasn’t given its followers much to cheer about in recent years, but the team’s hot streak has confidence — and fan engagement — growing

A Carolina Hurricanes fan holds a homemade “Loves This Bunch of Jerks" sign, a reference to what Canadian broadcaster Don Cherry called the team due to their postgame celebrations following home wins. (Chris Seward / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour knows a thing or two about winning.

“Whenever you’re winning or feeling good about yourself, you have a little more confidence,” he said.

And his team has done plenty of winning.

Since a 3-1 home win over the Flyers on New Year’s Eve, the Hurricanes were 21-6-1 heading into Tuesday night’s game in Boston. Only Tampa Bay — a team on a historic pace that is going to win the Presidents’ Trophy going away — has been better.

And with all that winning comes the aforementioned confidence.

“You want to be confident, and I think right now a lot of our guys feel pretty good, and they should,” Brind’Amour said following Monday’s practice. “They’ve worked really hard and put us in a good spot.”

After Monday’s games, the Hurricanes were third in the Metropolitan Division, three points behind the second-place Islanders and trailing the division-leading Capitals — who had played one more game — by just five.

But the race for playoff spots in the Eastern Conference is tight. Carolina was just one point ahead of Montreal and Pittsburgh — who held the two wild-card spots heading into Tuesday — and three up on Columbus, which loaded up at the trade deadline to make a Stanley Cup run that has turned into a desperate push to even reach the postseason.

While the Blue Jackets’ urgency to make the playoffs has entered panic mode, the Hurricanes — looking to snap a nine-year postseason drought — have seemingly shifted from hoping to make the playoffs to seeing how high they can climb in the conference.

“Well, I’m sure (the) mindset has changed, absolutely,” captain Justin Williams said of the difference between this year’s team and the 2017-18 Hurricanes. “We’re winning games where last year we wouldn’t have. And I can count more of them on my hand that I felt we would’ve lost last year, and this year we came out with wins.

“At this point in time last year, we were kind of pretending that we were making a playoff run. Obviously, we were trying as best we could. It obviously feels a little different, and I think it looks a little different also.”

That different feeling has spread to the fan base, which has mobilized behind the team’s success and its viral Storm Surge celebrations — and the accompanying “Bunch of Jerks” fallout — to bring excitement back to PNC Arena.

“I think the whole community — you can feel it,” Brind’Amour said. “There’s no doubt about it. That’s positive. Again, it’s all the hard work that the guys have put in here, and it’s paying off. We’re tied to the community, maybe a little different than most teams.”

Brind’Amour remembers what the support was like during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002, the Cup win in 2006 and the trip to the Eastern Conference Final in 2009. In fact, it was one of the things he hoped to bring back when he was promoted to head coach last May.

“For whatever reason, our expectations have fallen a little bit here, and we need to raise those,” he said.

Regardless of what happens in the season’s final month and beyond, there’s no denying the bar for what the team can accomplish has been raised.

“I don’t think guys really care much about the past,” Brind’Amour said Monday. “We have a lot of new faces. They’ve done a nice job here turning the page right from Day 1. Even the guys that have been here — we’re not looking back, we’re looking forward.”

Looking ahead, the schedule is tough — Carolina faces just two teams (Buffalo on March 16 and New Jersey on April 4) that are lottery locks. But with a new mentality and momentum on their side, the Hurricanes seem on track to make the postseason for the first time this decade.

“It’s confidence, it’s learning from mistakes from past years, and I feel like this group is more ready and just more fun in the locker room,” forward Teuvo Teravainen said. “You can see every day, there’s some good humor around here, and we just try to get better every day, and that’s what keeps us going.”

That, and the growing support from the fans.

“People are definitely behind us, and we can feel it,” Brind’Amour said. “And I think the guys understand that, and we’re certainly not going to stop now.”