|Carolina Hurricanes defenceman Mike Commodore stands with his sticks outside the dressing room before Game 6 at Rexall Place Saturday. (Edmonton Sun/Perry Mah)
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The bottom has been expected to drop out from the Carolina Hurricanes all year.
Predicted to finish low in the Eastern Conference standings at the start of the season, then expected to lose out eventually in the playoffs later in the year, the Hurricanes are not ready to concede Game 7.
Yes, they had a two-game lead twice in the Stanley Cup final series. Yes, they failed to clinch the Cup on home ice once already. Yes, they looked tired and out of gas in Game 6. And yes, their goaltender, who once looked unbeatable, has conceded eight goals in his last two games.
"We've fed off that all year," said Hurricanes defenceman Mike Commodore. "Coming into the year, we were picked to finish 14; nobody thought we were going to do anything here.
"We got off to a good start, we were playing well and everybody was looking at us, picking a day on the calendar, waiting to see when we were going to fold."
NOT PEOPLE'S CHOICE
The Hurricanes never did fold.
In fact, they finished first in their division and second in the Eastern Conference. Yet they were still few people's favourites to win the Stanley Cup.
When they lost their first two playoff games at home to the Montreal Canadiens, they were quickly being counted out.
They made a goaltending change, giving the duties to a rookie who had only played sparingly in the regular season.
But they're still here.
"We rely on each other in here, that's how we've been successful all year," Commodore said. "And that's how we're going to approach it (today)."
The Hurricanes were all ready to lift the Stanley Cup last Wednesday, having a 3-1 lead in the series and playing at home.
But an overtime winner by Oilers forward Fernando Pisani sent the series back to Edmonton.
Then in Edmonton, the Hurricanes played their worst game of the series, fired their lowest number of shots in a playoff game this year, and suddenly looked tired and beat up.
But as Commodore pointed out, no kid has ever won the Stanley Cup on the street or local rink in anything but a Game 7.
"It's never like Game 5 or a sweep, it's always Game 7," he said. "Yes it's exciting. This is it. The last few days have been a question of when we're going to be done. You're not sure what is going to happen tomorrow kind of deal. Now this is it. The season is over after (tonight). It's exciting."
The excitement transcends both locker-rooms.
For the third consecutive time the Stanley Cup will be decided by a Game 7. And the Hurricanes have history on their side.
ALWAYS GAME 7
Not since 1971 has the visiting team won a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup final.
"You go back to playing the street hockey games and this is what you dream of, being in the Stanley Cup finals and being in Game 7," said Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward.
"This is extremely exciting, it's a moment that you want to embrace and make the most of it."
That's what both teams plan to do. And when it's all over, just one will be left standing.
"At the end of the day if you leave it all on the ice, that's all you can ask for," Ward said.
"If at the end of the game you can look yourself in the mirror and say you did your best, that's all you can ask out of your teammates."