- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 28, 2002

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. When the NHL's annual playoff tournament started, there was no favorite in the East. Two weeks later, with the old guard falling by the wayside, there still isn't one.
The Carolina Hurricanes yesterday ousted the New Jersey Devils, one of last season's Stanley Cup finalists, from the playoffs one day after Ottawa sent Philadelphia home. Boston, the regular-season Eastern Conference winner, is one loss away from watching the rest of the postseason on TV.
Nor has this been an easy playoff series for the league. There already has been some supplemental disciplinary action and probably will be more coming from the NHL today regarding Bruins defenseman Kyle McLaren's hit on Montreal's Richard Zednik and the mayhem Friday night in Toronto, where the Maple Leafs pounded the New York Islanders into submission.
Center Ron Francis, 39, and goalie Kevin Weekes, 27, were the heroes for Carolina yesterday in the Hurricanes' 1-0 victory over the Devils, only the second playoff shutout in the history of the franchise. The first came 16 years ago to the day when Mike Liut, who was a Washington Capital briefly before becoming an agent, beat Montreal 1-0.
The series victory was the first best-of-7 win and only the second playoff series win in the history of the franchise.
There could be no sweeter goal than the one scored by Hurricanes captain Francis on a power play 10:29 into the second period. Francis is the only player on Carolina who was with the franchise when it was based in Hartford and known as the Whalers. The center was traded to Pittsburgh, where he won two Stanley Cups before being traded back.
"I want to contribute," said Francis, who appeared somewhat embarrassed as the center of attention. "I thought our line had been playing well even though we hadn't had a lot of results, and it certainly was nice to get the one point tonight. It was a little extra special."
The game's only goal came with veteran New Jersey defenseman Ken Daneyko off for high sticking. Sami Kapanen had the puck along the left wall, and Scott Stevens was trying to defend two Carolina players in front of goalie Martin Brodeur.
While one player backed up Stevens, Francis moved into the hole created by the defenseman. Kapanen passed through the slot to Francis, and Brodeur couldn't get back across the net in time to stop it. It was Francis' first playoff goal this season and the 41st of his career.
Weekes had never been in a playoff game before starter Arturs Irbe had to be relieved in Games 3 and 4. Weekes started Games 5 and 6, winning the first 3-2 in overtime. He was acquired March 5 from Tampa Bay, a trade that allowed Carolina to unload Tom Barrasso.
Weekes had been "the goalie of the future" for several teams that always found somebody in front of him. After yesterday's 32-save performance under heavy pressure, he may have found his niche.
"This year was a learning experience," he said of his tour with Tampa Bay, "and hopefully I don't have to repeat this as far as going through the majority of a season without playing. Everybody has their dues to pay, individually and as a team, and we paid a lot of dues. I know I have.
"I'm doing what I always aspired to do since I was 6 years old, play in the National Hockey League. So life isn't too bad."

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