“It’s strange but true. Folks, the Carolina Hurricanes are headed to the Stanley Cup Finals.” Those were the first words spoken when Martin Gelinas scored the game-winning goal in overtime propelling the Canes into the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals. For the first time in the 85 years of the NHL’s existence, a team residing in the south made it to the Finals. They won game one, but did lose the next four to the powerhouse known as the Detroit Red Wings. Just four years and three seasons later, however, they reached the Finals again, this time defeating Edmonton in seven games. That was followed up by a miraculous run in 2009 led by Jussi Jokinen which was cut short by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Conference Finals.
Since then, however, the Hurricanes have not been a force in the league. 2007 did see the Atlanta Thrashers as the third seed, but other than that, they never made an impact. Fortunately for southern hockey, a new team began to emerge. That was the Nashville Predators. From 2010 to 2012 and 2015 to 2017, they have been a playoff team. After losing in seven games to the Sharks in the second round during the 2016 postseason, they were ready to get over the hump and see the Conference Finals for the first time. As the seventh seed, facing the Blackhawks in round one, to many people, things did not look good for them. They shocked everyone in the series, including the fans and analysts who predicted an upset. Allowing just three goals, including two shutouts on the road, they swept Chicago. They followed it up by winning the next two series in six games each, finding themselves in the Stanley Cup Finals, representing the south for the first time in eleven years.
People think of these teams as not having a huge following. It’s not up north where hockey is more popular. While it is true they don’t have as big of a fanbase as the original six, they do have quite a following. Those southerners are loud and love their teams with a passion. I’ll always remember the crowd in game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. Reaching 131 decibels, the now PNC Arena (formerly RBC Center) holds the record for the loudest indoor arena. Some say it hit as high as 134 decibels. To add on, they stood the entire game. In 2009, it once again hit the 120 mark. A playoff drought has affected the attendance, but the passion still exists. I found a glimpse of it during their 13 game point streak when Noah Hanifin scored an overtime goal to stay in the playoff race.
The passion within the “caniac” fanbase also resides in Nashville. Bridgestone Arena is definitely a place I would love to see a hockey game. Dating back several years, just from watching on television, you can tell those fans are deafening, and I have no doubt the atmosphere is amazing. I can’t wait to hear the noise in the arena in game three.
Many fans don’t realize it’s good for the league for teams in places like the south to be relevant. It’s better for the game to branch out and gain interest in non-traditional markets than just keep the game up north. Carolina and Nashville are two examples of great fanbases in those markets, and it’s nice to see one of them in the Stanley Cup Finals.