LAVALETTE: Hurricanes need miracle to change narrative

Carolina is down 3-0 in their series with the Rangers,

The Hurricanes react after the Rangers scored the winning goal in overtime of Game 3 Thursday in Raleigh. (Chris Seward / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — Following Thursday’s overtime loss to the New York Rangers, Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal succinctly summed up the feeling of being in a 3-0 series hole.

“It’s gonna hurt tonight,” he said. “I won’t get too much sleep, but we’ll have a new day tomorrow and we’ll find a way to win one game.”

I asked Staal following Friday’s practice — perhaps the Hurricanes’ last of a season that has come apart at the seams — if he got any rest the night before.


Truthfully, I didn’t either.

It wasn’t because of empathy for the Hurricanes players, coaches and fans, though I have gotten to know many from each group and see the anguish in their faces, hear the tremble in their voices, feel the desperation in their written words.

I couldn’t sleep because what new can you say about a team that seems to tell the same story every year?

The wins — 314 of them, including 36 in the playoffs — over the past six seasons have raised expectations, turning a fan base that cried in the stands when Carolina finally returned to the postseason in 2019 into one rightfully aching for more.

The fans here from the beginning — whether they were truly “at every game in Greensboro” or not — remember the optimism of 1997, the electricity of 2002, the euphoria of 2006, and the renewed hope of 2009. Many recall the franchise’s darkest days, namely nine consecutive years without a playoff appearance as rows of seats in PNC Arena became pockmarked with cold, red seatbacks, all while an absentee owner preached “patience.”

Those who stuck around to see Petr Mrazek bellow from the Carolina bench, “We are in! We are in! Yes!” were teary-eyed having survived nearly a decade of fruitless fandom.

As the team’s success grew, so did the fanbase. Don’t call them bandwagoners — they were given plenty of reasons to stay away.

The half-hearted trade deadline acquisitions that were unsuccessful in getting the Hurricanes back to the postseason only further held the franchise back. The propensity for drafting players with ties to the organization — former Plymouth Whalers, the children of scouts and former players, even a Stahl that wasn’t a Staal — reeked of a country club atmosphere.

Jim Rutherford’s inability to develop a prospect pool, Kirk Muller’s bumbling leadership, Ron Francis’ risk aversion, and Bill Peters’ terrible treatment of players and staff alike all contributed to the franchise being stuck in hockey purgatory.

Tom Dundon’s purchase of the team and his decision to elevate franchise icon Rod Brind’Amour to coach changed everything.

Don Waddell used his vast contacts in hockey — along with the cutting-edge analytics of Eric Tulsky and the keen and detailed amateur scouting of Darren Yorke — to create a model franchise, one that was as adept at finding market inefficiencies and overlooked amateur talent as it was at stockpiling draft picks and deftly managing the salary cap.

Then Brind’Amour gathered all that and restored pride to the team, again making it meaningful to pull on a Carolina Hurricanes jersey — whether you were a player or a fan.

But the more it means — to Brind’Amour, his players, the organization, its fans — the more it hurts, and there are a lot of people hurting right now.

Carolina’s three losses to the Rangers — the team has eight straight playoff losses by just one goal, including five in overtime — are eerily reminiscent of last year’s sweep at the hands of the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference final.

The players know it too.

Following Game 3, Brent Burns rode a stationary bike, pedaling away while staring at himself in the mirrored wall. Bewilderment, disappointment and pain were all on his face. At age 39, his opportunity to win the Stanley Cup is slipping away much like the skills that should make him a Hall of Famer.

Burns isn’t new to this. The former Norris Trophy winner’s resume has one blank space, and he’s again seeing it stare back as empty as his own gaze into the mirror, just as it did time and again when he was with the San Jose Sharks.

Those Sharks teams won a lot of games yet never won anything. That’s their story — one that’s been told by plenty of teams and players throughout sports history.

Is Sebastian Aho Carolina’s Joe Thornton? Andrei Svechnikov its Joe Pavelski? Martin Necas the Patrick Marleau? Seth Jarvis a stand-in for Logan Couture?

For now, there’s no new story to tell about the Carolina Hurricanes. The team is stuck in a loop of growth and prosperity followed by failure and heartache, a victim of its own success.

All that is left this season is one last chance. A win in Game 4 only creates another last chance. They need to be on the right side of four final chances to make a new story. It starts Saturday at PNC Arena, which will be filled to the gills with rabid fans hoping for a miracle and having long forgotten the days of simply being proud to be relevant again.

Fall short of a miracle and the Hurricanes will add another chapter to a book that may never have a happy ending.

One can dream, but first you need to be able to sleep.