With five unanswered goals, Carolina Hurricanes add to their history of playoff shocks

To one pair of eyes, watching from the owner’s box, this looked all too familiar. In his time with the Carolina Hurricanes, Eric Staal was part of any number of improbable playoff comebacks, usually but not always against the New Jersey Devils, the kind of games people still talk about five, 10, 20 years later.

He watched his younger brother this time, a civilian, alongside three sons too young to have witnessed what their father did in a Hurricanes uniform. But if they wanted to know, if they wanted to get a sense of the magic the Hurricanes have so often conjured in the spring, this was it.

“The momentum of the building. The sound. The energy,” Staal said in the locker room afterward. “Knowing that there was going to be a couple more chances, and if the vibes were right, they were going to go in. And they were today.”

The stuff of legend. The stuff of history. The stuff of nicknames.

Category 5.

Five unanswered goals. From three down to two up. Not only did the Hurricanes score with their goalie pulled, they scored after the New York Islanders pulled theirs.

There’s something deep in this franchise’s DNA, passed down from Jeff O’Neill to Rod Brind’Amour to Eric Staal to Brock McGinn to everyone on the roster now, that makes nights like this possible. That makes the impossible possible.

Down 3-2 with less than three minutes to go, Sebastian Aho scored with the Carolina net empty to tie the score. Then Jordan Martinook scored nine seconds later. Then Jake Guentzel scored into an empty net at the other end to ice a 5-3 win that left the Islanders picking fights and Patrick Roy shell-shocked on an increasingly empty bench. The Islanders had more misconducts (six) as the officials sorted through their shenanigans than they did shots on goal (one) in the third period.

This wasn’t a team sending a message at the end of a playoff game it lost. It was a shattered team lashing out in frustration after surrendering a three-goal lead, wilting in the face of a relentless attack that for so long failed to break through and then broke the Islanders entirely.

“It was a special night for sure,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s one of those games we’ll probably look back on for a long time.”

For the players who were a part of it, it’s too soon to appreciate just how stunning this was, just how memorable it will be. Time will take care of that. They know they were a part of something that will resonate far longer than the usual playoff game. Only later, when the adrenaline and euphoria fade, will they realize for just how long.

“I still have to kind of come down from it,” Martinook said. “I think you have to go home and take a deep breath and then maybe watch the highlights. Because when you’re in it, you’re in it. Your sole focus is on the game. There’s some crazy things happening.”

For 30 minutes, after falling behind, the Hurricanes pounded away at the Islanders’ net. They hit the posts on either side of Semyon Varlamov in the second period as Teuvo Teravainen got the Hurricanes on the board with a power-play goal. And they kept at it, shot after shot after shot, until Seth Jarvis beat Varlamov with a nasty wrister to pull the Hurricanes within a goal.

And immediately after Aho tipped in a Jarvis shot, Martinook caught Varlamov sleeping and tucked the puck behind him from behind the net. Game, set, match. Series?

The Hurricanes weren’t thrilled with the way they played in Game 1, but were rewarded. They did everything right in Game 2 and weren’t rewarded for so long, until they were over and over again.

So this one goes into the history books, alongside the Miracle at Molson and the Shock at the Rock and all the other games that need no other description.

The Hurricanes have done this before, come back from three goals down: Game 4 in Montreal in 2002, Game 1 against the Edmonton Oilers in the 2006 Stanley Cup finals. Only seven teams have ever scored the game-tying and game-winning goals in the final three minutes of a playoff game. The Hurricanes have done it twice.

Lou Lamoriello watched Eric Staal eliminate his Devils in 2009 when he scored the second of two Hurricanes goals in the final 80 seconds of Game 7 to flip a series-ending loss into a series-ending win. He watched Monday as the Hurricanes all but eliminated his Islanders with three goals in the final 165 seconds of Game 2.

“We were even talking about that the other night, Eric’s goal against Jersey,” Jordan Staal said. “I watched it all. It’s fun to go do it tonight.”

Jordan Staal watched all of them in 2006, a year before he entered the NHL, then merely an interested spectator. Monday night, it was his brother’s turn to watch in return as a very different group of Hurricanes made a very similar kind of history.

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