Roar after roar after roar, the building shook with fury and anger. Secure in a comfortable lead, the Carolina Hurricanes took out their frustration, each hit further amping up the volume.
Ten years of pent-up frustration and three games of steadily building bile were released Monday night in a cathartic third period, the Hurricanes finally not only standing their ground against the Washington Capitals but absolutely dominating them.
Even Gary Bettman was there to see it, this resumption of normal service after so many years in the hockey wilderness, a 5-0 win that certainly altered the balance of power heading into Game 4, the Capitals still up 2-1 in the series but no longer with the air of invulnerability the defending champions carried with them into the series.
“Listen, we pushed them out of this game,” Hurricanes captain Justin Williams said. “If they’re going to beat us, we’re not going to go quietly. That I can promise you. It’s only one game. Only counts as one.”
Still, underneath the noise, amid the celebration, the question had to be asked: At what cost?
The Hurricanes held serve at home, but a promising career like few that has come this way was put at risk for no real reason.
Win the battle, lose the war?
A Pyrrhic victory this was, with Andrei Svechnikov knocked out cold in a first-period fight, Micheal Ferland disappearing even before that and Jordan Martinook surviving a Brooks Orpik spear to the groin.
But it was a victory, not anything to be disregarded, the Hurricanes’ first in the playoffs since May 14, 2009, the Game 7 victory in Boston fueled by a different kind of emotion when Scott Walker scored the overtime winner while bearing the mental load of his wife’s cancer diagnosis.
The emotion fueling the Hurricanes on Monday was hate, the old-fashioned playoff hockey variety, the kind that felt a lot more like 2001, when Scott Stevens knocked out Shane Willis and Ron Francis in quick succession, Sandis Ozolinsh fought Stevens in a brawl-filled Game 3 – yes, that actually happened – and the Hurricanes rallied to win Game 4 in overtime and avoid a sweep before pushing the series to six games.
There’s still a lot of history yet to be written in this series, but however it ends, Alex Ovechkin’s knockout of Svechnikov, the culmination of a season-long battle between the two, will loom large in the telling.
The two faced off midway through the first after exchanging slashes and a butt-end. It didn’t last long. Ovechkin connected with Svechnikov’s chin, knocking him unconscious while Svechnikov was still on his feet. Ovechkin continued to swing wildly as Svechnikov toppled backward, which looked malicious but is a natural product of someone flailing away at an opponent who’s no longer there.
“I’m not a big fighter, and he’s the same way,” Ovechkin said. “He asked me to fight and I said, ‘Let’s go, yeah.’ I hope he’s OK. You don’t want to see a guy get hurt.”
An emotional Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour had a different view of it: “He slashes him twice, Ovie, whack-whack, and then Svech gives it back. I don’t know if there’s words exchanged, but one guy’s gloves come off way first and that’s Ovie’s, not our guy’s. So it’s a little bit frustrating because he got hurt. It’s his first fight. Played 90 games. Never fought in his life. Pretty sure Ovie knew that. That stuff bothers me. But it’s done.”
The problem isn’t with Ovechkin or Svechnikov or the running battle between them that started in October and escalated in each game since, the upstart trying to measure himself against the legend but giving away 40 pounds and 15 years of hard-won experience. The problem is with a game that endorses this atavistic bare-knuckle brawling, consequences be damned, out of some misguided hard-scrabble Alberta prairie notion of toughness.
The consequences, as seen here, can be dangerous. Even potentially deadly. (What if Svechnikov’s helmet had slid up an inch just before his head hit the ice?) That could be a career-changing concussion for Svechnikov, no one knows, and for what? No game, no playoff game, is worth that.
But that’s the uncertainty the Hurricanes, and Svechnikov, face now, no matter what else happens in this series.
“The games don’t really matter when something like that happens,” Dougie Hamilton said. “I just hope he’s OK.”
And it remains a series, the Hurricanes taking care of business thanks to two goals from Warren Foegele and two power-play snipes from Hamilton, their big guns still misfiring but harmlessly on this night, thanks to a crowd-fueled defensive performance that all but shut down the Capitals’ high-powered offense. Petr Mrazek needed only 18 saves for what may not have been the easiest of his four career playoff shutouts but was certainly the quietest in terms of workload.
After all these years, the result was worth the wait, the grim circumstances of the first period less so, and the suddenly short-handed Hurricanes have two days to recover and regroup. They’ll need it. The emotion expended Monday will not easily be replenished, the players lost not easily replaced.
But that’s how it goes in the playoffs, and the Hurricanes are back in them, officially now, as deep as it gets.