- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 16, 2009

RALEIGH, N.C. | One thing about the Carolina Hurricanes — when they get into the playoffs, they stick around for a while.

They’re in the postseason for just the third time since 2002 but have reached the Eastern Conference finals all three times.

This is what the Hurricanes have insisted they were capable of the past two offseasons — that had they made the playoffs, all the pieces were there to be a serious Stanley Cup contender.

Now they’re actually doing it. They’re making the most of their return to the postseason with a series of dramatic goals and clutch performances capped by Scott Walker’s score in overtime of Game 7 against Boston.

“I don’t get the sense with this team, and I haven’t, where I ever felt we’re lucky to be here,” coach Paul Maurice said Friday. “The game, yeah, we won in dramatic fashion. But it wasn’t like they dominated us for 60 minutes and we got a lucky break and scored and won, and said, ‘How long can that last?’ ”

One more round, at least. Next up on Monday night: Game 1 of the East finals against the defending conference champion Pittsburgh Penguins, a team that like Carolina has responded to a midseason coaching change by becoming one of the league’s hottest clubs down the stretch.

Before worrying too much about the Penguins, though, Carolina is catching its breath after becoming just the second team in NHL history to win consecutive Game 7s on the road in the same playoff year.

Each of its last four playoff series has gone the full seven games, and the Hurricanes have won all four. Ten current players were on the team that closed its Stanley Cup run in 2006 by winning back-to-back Game 7s. After two years out of the playoffs, they beat New Jersey and Boston in seven games apiece to return to hockey’s final four.

“We resisted the urge to try and do something extra special to win that [Boston] game,” he added. “That’s the kiss of death, when you try to force a pass through five or six people because you’re trying to create a breakaway.”

Walker became the Hurricanes’ latest playoff hero Thursday night when he whacked in the rebound of Ray Whitney’s shot 18:46 into the extra session to give Carolina a 3-2 victory.

“If I scored that goal, I don’t think I’d ever want to sleep again because there’d be a minute that I didn’t get to sit there and bask in that glory,” Maurice said.

Walker added himself to the team’s growing list of players who have come up big this postseason.

Jussi Jokinen has three game-winning goals in the playoffs, including one off his skate with 0.2 seconds left in Game 4 against New Jersey and another in overtime to beat Boston in Game 3. Tim Gleason gave Carolina its first win of this postseason with a Game 2 goal in overtime against the Devils. All-Star Eric Staal capped a two-goals-in-80-seconds rally to win Game 7 of the New Jersey series.

“We’re enjoying the ride right now,” goalie Cam Ward said, “and trying to make the best of it.”

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