June. 02, 2006

In Rod they trust

Inspirational Brind'Amour scores winner as Canes reach finalsCarolina storms back from 2-1 down to defeat Buffalo in Game 7. Now, only the Oilers can spoil the Canes' run to the Stanley Cup

Luke DeCock, Staff Writer

RALEIGH - It took some doing, but Rod Brind'Amour eventually got his point across. He kept beckoning to his teammates until they joined him at center ice, all 20 of the Carolina Hurricanes gathering around a trophy that meant both so little and so much.

It couldn't have been more fitting. Led by their captain, they gathered as a team.

Wherever the Canes are headed, Brind'Amour will lead them there. On Thursday night, he brought them to the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in five years.

Brind'Amour's power-play goal with 8:38 to play was the winner in a 4-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, completing a two-day seminar on leadership by word and by example.

The next step comes Monday, when the Hurricanes host the Edmonton Oilers in the first game of the finals.

"Obviously, we're looking for bigger things," Brind'Amour said. "We like to celebrate every round, every victory. It was a team effort, and so we just thought we would all come out there."

The win secured the Prince of Wales Trophy that goes to the Eastern Conference champion, and it was around that trophy that Brind'Amour called the Hurricanes together.

Four years ago, they danced with the trophy like they had won the Cup, holding it for pictures on the ice and parading it for fans at the airport. On Thursday, no one touched it. No one even came close, even as they crowded around it.

Together, the superstition and the scene were reminders of how the Hurricanes got this far -- and how far their ambition still stretches.

"In the back of our mind, we know there are bigger things," Kevyn Adams said. "That's why I thought it was pretty fitting to bring everybody over when [Glen Wesley] and Roddie and I were out there looking at each other. We got here as a team, so we all got our picture taken."

Brind'Amour wasn't the only Carolina player to back up his words. After promising to atone for his boarding penalty that led to Buffalo's overtime goal in Game 6, Doug Weight set up Carolina's first goal and scored the second early in the third period after a collapse late in the second period not only cost the Canes their early lead but put them behind going into the third.

Jochen Hecht banked a shot off Cam Ward's left leg from behind the net to put the Sabres ahead with 4.9 seconds left in the second period, a goal that angered the Canes as much as it frustrated them.

"Somebody else said it, that those goals are not going to beat us," Brind'Amour said. " 'We're not going to lose because of goals like that,' somebody said in the dressing room. We just came out and played hard and got a great goal right away that took the pressure right off."

It was Weight who did it. Only 1:34 into the third, Ray Whitney found him in front with a pass from behind the net, and Weight fought his way past Derek Roy to score and make good on his guarantee.

Midway through the third, Buffalo defenseman Brian Campbell shot the puck over the boards, giving the Hurricanes a power play with 9:42 to play. On the man advantage, Eric Staal took a shot that got caught in traffic in front of the net and sat loose in front. Brind'Amour jumped in from the right circle to fire it past Miller.

The Sabres had a late power play after Jason Pominville drew a tripping call on Justin Williams. But the Canes didn't allow Buffalo a shot on goal, and Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff decided not to pull Miller for an extra skater when the Sabres were pressuring the Canes in their own zone with less than 90 seconds to play.

It didn't matter -- even with Miller in the net, Williams got the puck back after trying to pass it to Brind'Amour in the slot and backhanded it over Miller with 51.7 seconds to play to seal the win and a ticket to the finals.

Brind'Amour's contribution to the win began long before his goal. On Wednesday morning, Brind'Amour called a team meeting to remind his teammates both young and old what was at stake. He then went out and took care of the win himself.

"He couldn't have picked a better time for a meeting," Williams said. "In Game 7, it's not just for one team -- it's an elimination game for both, and we didn't want our season to end tonight.

"Rod reminded us of that, reminded us of how hard we worked and reminded us that we have great players on this team and we have a real good chance to win this. He came out tonight, and he led the way again."

It was the first Game 7 win in franchise history and the sixth for Carolina defenseman Glen Wesley in seven tries, completing a thrilling playoff series that for once lived up to the hype that accompanied it -- two of the NHL's fastest teams in an end-to-end series that took seven games to decide.

And so the first day of hurricane season was the biggest of the Hurricanes' season -- so far.

Like the weather, they're not done yet.