Post-season heroes come in all forms from the star player to the unknown fourth-liner. We all know the exploits of the great playoff performers. However, we hardly hear about the unlikely playoff heroes. These unlikely post-season stars can contribute in many ways. Contributions could be for an entire playoff run, a series, a game, or even a goal. These unlikely heroes have made big plays that no one expects. This series looks at all of these unknown stars. These are the unlikely Carolina Hurricanes playoff heroes.
Carolina Hurricanes Playoff Heroes
Before the Moment
Cam Ward, who was taken in the first round in the 2002 NHL entry draft, had come into the league as a backup goaltender in the 2005-06 season to Martin Gerber. Ward put up an underwhelming save percentage of 0.882 through 28 games.
While the Hurricanes roster was strong, the goaltending was the weak link of the roster. Gerber had just finished his worst season in the NHL, and Ward had not stood out for a rookie goaltender at the NHL level.
After making the playoffs with 112 points in the season, the Hurricanes were down 2-0 in the series to the 7th seed Montreal Canadiens. Gerber was struggling through the first couple of games, allowing 12 goals against in the first two games. That’s when head coach Peter Laviolette decided to take a chance. He put rookie goaltender in net for game three of the series.
After replacing Gerber against Montreal, Ward went on to lead the Hurricanes to four straight wins to take the series 4-2. Ward had only let in five goals through four games, so naturally, Laviolette kept him as the starter moving onto round two.
Ward faced down Martin Brodeur at the other end in the second round. The New Jersey Devils were the Atlantic division champions that season, and finished as the third seed in the Eastern Conference in the 2005-06 season. The Devils were a formidable opponent for the Hurricanes, with such offensive threats such as Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, Patrik Elias and Zach Parise. Cam Ward had another strong series, winning four of five games played.
Moving into the conference finals, Ward had only dropped a game, going 8-1 up until this point, and allowing more than two goals on only one occasion. Gerber would be staying on the bench and the Hurricanes would ride Ward into the third round against the Buffalo Sabres. This series, however, did not go as smoothly for Ward as the other two. Through the first three games, Ward allowed 10 goals, and the Hurricanes were down in the series 2-1. Fortunately, he was able to turn it around and the Hurricanes won the eastern conference finals in a seven-game series.
Looking like the clear MVP of the playoffs for the Hurricanes so far, Ward has brought the team to the Stanley Cup Finals. Similar to the series prior, this one went seven games against the Edmonton Oilers. In game 7, Ward allowed just one goal and helped lead his team to a Stanley Cup victory.
Ward won the Conn Smyth for his performance in the playoffs, being the first rookie goaltender to win it since Patrick Roy in 1986.
After his legendary playoff run, Ward would become the Hurricanes’ starting goaltender for years to come. Gerber went to the Ottawa Senators the following season, leaving the clear goaltending choice to be Ward. He would continue to steadily put up better numbers until 2011-12, but continued to be the Hurricanes starter until his final year with the Hurricanes in 2017-18.
While ward never replicated his rookie success in the playoffs, he still led the organization to its first, and only Stanley Cup Championship to date.
Before the Moment
Similar to Cam Ward, Warren Foegele was a rookie coming into the year before his playoff run. He had thoroughly mediocre numbers in the 2018-19 season, posting just 15 points in 77 games for the Hurricanes. Foegele had success at the AHL level the season prior. As a result, the Hurricanes saw him as a fit for their bottom six.
Foegele was a key player in the first two rounds of the Hurricanes run to the Eastern Conference final in 2019. He posted five goals, one of them being a game-winner, and four assists, all at key times, either tying the games or clinching it, Foegele helped the Hurricanes make it deep for the first time since 2008-09.
In the first round against Washington, it was expected by most that the Hurricanes would be knocked out by the Washington Capitals. After being down 2-0 to start the series, Foegele and the rest of the Hurricanes began to turn it up. In the last five games of the first round, Foegele posted five points, one of which was a game-winning goal.
Come the second round, the Hurricanes were up against a New York Islanders team that had just swept the Pittsburgh Penguins. Foegele was able to post another three points in a four-game series sweep, potting yet another game-winning goal.
While Foegele was not the Hurricanes MVP, he was certainly a major asset to them during this run, posting an unexpected number of goals and points in limited games through the first two rounds. Unfortunately, their run ended in the third round after they were swept by the Boston Bruins. In the Conference Finals, Foegele, along with the rest of the Hurricanes roster, dried up on offence.
Warren Foegele ended up having a better sophomore year than his rookie season in 2019-20. He wasn’t able to replicate his playoff performance. Foegele only posted just one goal and no assists through eight games. Through Foegele’s contribution in key games, he became an unsung hero during the Carolina Hurricanes 2018-19 playoff run.
Foegele was able to use to the 2018-19 playoff run, and his next regular season to ink a one year, $2,150,000 contract for the upcoming season.
Before the Moment
Scott Walker was a fairly standard middle six NHL player throughout his career up until this point. Posted some seasons with 20+ goals, but also saw some down years. In his time with the Carolina Hurricanes, his offensive totals saw a steady decrease.
When the 2008-09 playoffs came around, Walker posted just five goals in 41 NHL games. The expectations for him during the playoffs were not especially high. Through the entire first round, Walker was held goalless. Unable to offensively contribute in a significant manner through, only adding two assists against the New Jersey Devils.
In round two against Boston, Walker was only able to contribute yet another two assists through the first six games. He wasn’t about to be held goalless for yet another series, though.
Walker was made a hero off of one single moment, rather than a playoff run.
It was Game 7, with time winding down in overtime. In a winner take all situation. Carolina, the clear underdogs, were up against the number one seed in the Eastern Conference.
With less than two minutes left in the overtime period, and the puck in the Hurricanes end. Dennis Seidenberg is able to exit the zone and pass it to Ray Whitney, who then shoots the puck on the net. Walker sees an opportunity to bank in the rebound, and become the playoff series hero for the Carolina Hurricanes. Sending them to the third round of the playoffs to face the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Hurricanes are swept by the eventual Stanley Cup Champions. Walker was unable to post another goal in the playoffs. He added another two assists in the last round of the playoffs. Walker would stay with the Hurricanes for another season, seeing his numbers drop off even further. He was eventually sent to the Washington Capitals to play out the final games of his career.
While his goal didn’t win a Stanley Cup, or he didn’t have an incredible playoff run, that single goal made him a hero for the Carolina Hurricanes.
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