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Although hockey is still relatively new in North Carolina, this franchise has actually been around for the better part of four decades. Their roots go all the way back to the beginnings of the World Hockey Association, when they began play as the New England Whalers. When the WHA merged with the NHL they were one of four franchises to be absorbed into the league. At that point they changed location and their name, becoming the Hartford Whalers.
In Hartford the club had a passionate fanbase, and the organization saw such stars as Gordie Howe, Chris Pronger, Brendan Shanahan and Ron Francis come and go. Ultimately, economics and the inability to get a new arena built in Hartford caused owner Peter Karmanos to relocate the team to North Carolina. Unfortunately, the new rink that was being constructed in Raleigh would not be complete for two more years, so the team was forced to play its home games 90 minutes away in Greensboro. Though that arena had a greater seating capacity that any other building in the NHL on most night it sat virtually empty because of Raleigh fans unwillingness to make the 3 hour round trip to see the team play.
The team managed to weather the financial strain and moved into the brand new Entertainment and Sports Arena in Raleigh during the 1999-2000 season. Over the next few years they slowly improved and in 2001-02 they went on a run fans had not seen since the early days of the New England Whalers. The Hurricanes first staved off the Washington Capitals to win their division. Then in the playoffs, they surprised the hockey world when in the first round they defeated Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils - a team that had reached the last two Stanley Cup Finals, and had won the cup as recently as 2000.
Round two would feature more surprises. Down 2-1 in the series to the Montreal Canadiens and 3-0 in game 4 the Canes managed an improbable comeback, charging back to win the game in overtime, and then capturing the next two games to eliminate the Habs and advance to the semi-finals against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Once again the Canes were written off. The Leafs, led by Mats Sundin, were playing their best hockey since their 1993 run, and everyone expected them to dispatch the upstart Canes with relative ease. However, the Hurricanes continued to ride the wave of momentum, and with Martin Gelinas' overtime winner in game six the Hurricanes were on to their first Stanley Cup Final in their history.
In the finals the gas tank finally hit E, and the miracle drive came to an abrupt halt. After Ron Francis scored an overtime goal to take game one in Detroit, the powerful Wings stormed back, winning the next four games with relative ease to capture their third Stanley Cup in the last the past six years.
As it turned out the Canes couldn't build on the momentum of that playoff drive. Over the next few seasons they would take a precipitous drop and found themselves hanging with the other cellar dwellers. The gloom of those losing seasons did have one bright spot, however. Their low ranking allowed them to draft Eric Staal, a lanky young superstar who has since gone on to become the face of the franchise. From the moment Staal first pulled on a Carolina Hurricanes jersey it was apparent that great things were on the horizon for the team.
2006 - The Hurricanes Win the Stanley Cup
Following the lockout year of 2004-05 nobody would have predicted the Carolina Hurricanes would emerge as one of the NHL's superpowers, yet that is exactly what happened. The Canes tore through the league during the regular season, racking up 52 wins, and earning 112 points, far and away the highest total in franchise history.
The spectacular season almost had a very anticlimactic finish, however. The 2nd seeded Hurricanes were heavily favored to dispatch the 7th ranked Montreal Canadiens in the first round. But after two games the Hurricanes found themselves in an 0-2, with games three and four in Montreal. Desperate to generate a spark, coach Peter Laviolette pulled starter Martin Gerber - who had enjoyed a career season that year - in favor of rookie Cam Ward. Surprising as it was the move turned out to be the correct call. Carolina came back to win the two games in Montreal, and eventually the series.
After dispatching the New Jersey Devils with relative ease in round two the Canes moved onto to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres, with a balanced attack and great goaltending, had looked like world-beaters up to that point. However, injuries to their top four defenseman would spell the Sabres' undoing and the Canes would squeak past them in 7 games to advance to the finals for the first time since 2002.
In the finals the Canes matched up against an unlikely opponent in the Edmonton Oilers. The 8th place seed in the Western Conference the Oilers had to fight like mad just to get into the playoffs and here they were in the Stanley Cup Finals. Ryan Smyth, Chris Pronger and crew weren't content just with reaching the dance either. They gave the Hurricanes everything they could handle. However, due to their superior regular season record the Canes had home ice advantage, and in game 7, with the Stanley Cup on the line they didn't take their foot off the pedal. Rookie goalie Cam Ward was brilliant once again, leading his team to a 3-1 game 7 victory and earning himself the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP in the process.