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Staal lights fuse on Game 6 celebration as Hurricanes surge to fight another day

Canes celebrate their victory over Caps

Watch a time-lapse of all the Carolina's goals and celebrations during the Hurricanes' 5-2 victory over the Washington Capitals during the Stanley Cup playoffs at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 22, 2019.
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Watch a time-lapse of all the Carolina's goals and celebrations during the Hurricanes' 5-2 victory over the Washington Capitals during the Stanley Cup playoffs at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 22, 2019.

It was all there, primed and ready, an arena full of people looking for any excuse to explode. Facing elimination, tied through two periods. Only the season hanging in the balance, that’s all.

Then Jordan Staal planted his butt in front of the net and lit the fuse. By the end, the crowd was chanting “Game 7,” and that’s what’s next.

The Carolina Hurricanes are going back to Washington, winner takes all on Wednesday, where the defending champs will feel the pressure for the first time in this series — Alex Ovechkin took an early shower after losing his composure late — and the Hurricanes will have nothing to lose.

They’ll be on the road in a series where the home team has won every game.

But they’ll also have Mr. Game 7.

Tack two more days onto this season and one last game onto this series, after Staal knocked in a loose puck early in the third to put the Hurricanes ahead, somehow getting his stick on the puck while falling to the ice after Brock McGinn kicked it through the crease moments after getting plastered face-first into the boards.

Commence explosion.

“I’m telling you, that crowd has been so much fun to play in front of,” Staal said. “It’s been a long time coming, and you could feel it. I could feel it. It was just a lot of fun. I’m excited to be where we’re at and excited to have a chance in Game 7.”

This was everything Game 5 was not, a committed performance from a team that had no margin for error, with contributions – finally – from its best players, exemplified by a gimpy but gritty Jordan Martinook playing on one leg. Martinook missed Game 5 after aggravating a season-long chronic issue in Game 4, but after watching that performance, left no doubt about his availability Monday.

The Hurricanes called up Clark Bishop, but sent him back to Charlotte (AHL) with his $110 per diem in his pocket after Martinook made it through warmups. Which, Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said later, he knew Martinook would.

“I feel bad for ‘Bish’ making that flight, but I probably could have told them I was playing no matter what,” Martinook said. “As a kid, these are the games you want to play in. I would have played with one arm.”

Rod Brind'Amour addresses the media following the Hurricanes' win over the Washington Capitals in Game 6

Between Martinook and the crowd, the Hurricanes had no shortage of inspiration, and so much of what went wrong Saturday went right Monday, with the Sebastian Aho line contributing and Staal and Justin Williams scoring, without the power play, again, but in this game the Hurricanes were able to convert their series-long five-on-five dominance into goals.

“That’s the recipe,” Brind’Amour said. “Obviously, it’s not that easy. But our best players were our best players.”

Petr Mrazek made the lead hold up with some key third-period saves, and a would-be game-tying goal by Ovechkin was justly waved off for goaltender interference, since all he did was shove Mrazek across the line while the puck was under him.

After the dismal showing in Game 5, the Hurricanes answered the bell in this one, giving as good as they got, back on their game. They even scored a power-play goal, almost, Warren Foegele scoring his fourth of the playoffs only five seconds after the man-advantage expired.

An Aho steal behind the net set up Teuvo Teravainen’s goal that made it 2-2, each an answer to a Washington goal as the road team led for the first time at any point in the series, for a total of 12 minutes, 13 seconds.

But the home team has won every game, and that didn’t change Monday. The Hurricanes are now 6-1 in their past seven elimination games, going back, uh, 13 years.

So Mr. Game 7 – Williams is 7-1 in his career, with seven goals and seven assists – will get a chance to work that magic again. He nearly put the Hurricanes ahead in the second, tapping a high pass out of the air and then slipping the puck past Braden Holtby – but too high out of the air, as it turned out. No goal then, but his redirection of a Brett Pesce shot after some of his own hard work behind the net put the game away midway through the third, perhaps an appetizer of what may be to come.

Check out photos from the Carolina Hurricanes' Stanley Cup playoff game against the Washington Capitals Monday night April 22, 2019.,

Brind’Amour has often joked that his team has been playing must-wins for a month, and its experience in these circumstances showed Monday and will be tested again Wednesday.

“We answered the bell,” Williams said. “I said from the start of the series, if they’re going to knock us out, we’re not going to do it easy, not going to let it be easy on them. Let’s go play another game.”

The Hurricanes have never done things the easy way. They have put themselves in this position by outworking and outshooting more talented opponents, making the most of what they have, minimizing the best of others.

For a team that had to fight to the final week of the season to make the playoffs, to end the drought, it’s only right and proper that this playoff series should come down to the final game, win or lose.

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.