Fast scores in overtime, Hurricanes punch ticket to conference finals 


The Carolina Hurricanes celebrate their series clinching 3-2 win over the Devils.

Sam Mendlowitz

Jesper Fast scored in overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win in game five against the New Jersey Devils. With the win, the Hurricanes become the first team this season to advance to the final four. They win the series four games to one and end a terrific season for the Devils. Game one and two were won by Carolina 5-1 and 6-1, respectively. The Devils took a high scoring game three 8-4 on home ice. Carolina won game four 6-1 before winning game five.

The Devils scored first with just under five minutes to play in the first. The Devils entered the zone on the rush. Michael McLeod passed it to Timo Meier along the boards. Meier passed it to the far side of the net where Dawson Mercer scored his first of the series. Just 50 seconds into the second period, Jacob Slavin took a long shot from the blue line that squeaked past Devils goaltender Akira Schmid, who turns 23 on Friday. About seven minutes later, the Devils were on a powerplay. Dougie Hamilton skated to the middle of the ice and took a slap shot that was stopped by Frederik Andersen but the rebound was put in by Meier. In the final minute of the second period, Brent Burns took a wrister from the face off circle that beat Schmid top-shelf. With the game tied at two a piece, the game went into overtime. Devils defenseman Jonas Seigenthaler took a delay of game penalty after lifting the puck over the boards and into the seats. Jesperi Kotkaniemi took a shot from the right face off circle that was deflected in front of the net by Jesper Fast.

“I felt it and I looked back and it was on the net, so just a lot of happy emotions,” Fast said. “I had a weird feeling going into overtime. I missed two kinds of good opportunities, so I [felt] like the next one would go in. Just happy I got a little touch on that one.”

The Hurricanes played extremely well in the series. They played their signature score first, tight forecheck, defense first style. They were faster and played well in all three zones. They were solid in net, with Frederik Andersen playing well allowing the Devils to two goals or less in all four Carolina wins. He made 27 wins in game five. They also did it without some of their top players. Andrei Svechnikov (torn ACL) Max Pacioretty (achilles), and Teuvo Terravainen (broken hand) were out for the entire series, as well as a majority of the first round. They got contributions from around the lineup, most notably by Jordan Martinook, who had ten points in the five games. Others such as Stefan Noesen played bigger minutes. Players who had a bottom six role during the regular season came up big against New Jersey, including Jesper Fast, who played for the New York Rangers from 2013-2020. 

Another reason is their head coach Rod Brind’Amour. Brind’Amour, a former player who was the Hurricanes captain and star forward when they won the Stanley Cup in 2006 (their only cup win in franchise history), took over as the team’s coach prior to the 2018-19 season. When he took over, the team had gone nine consecutive seasons without making the playoffs. Brind’Amour has led them to the postseason in each of his five seasons. They have lost in the first round of the playoffs only once (2020) and have made it to the conference finals twice (2019,2023). His methods, style, and philosophies have been a huge reason for the team’s success and have quickly made him a top coach in the league. 

“I’m just really proud of the group,” Brind’Amour said. “I’m just an old guy sitting behind the bench, just watching this and enjoying how hard everyone is working and [playing] together. It’s a great group.”

“It’s been pretty special to see different guys come in at different times and just compete and fit in great,” defenseman Brent Burns said. He is 38 and has never won a Stanley Cup. This is his first season in Carolina. He has been one of their best defenseman all year long and scored the game tying goal late in the second period.  “Five [men] together and we just keep rolling. It’s been that so far, and it’s going to have to continue.”

As for the Devils, this fairy tale season has come to an end. They finished the year second in the division. They had a huge improvement from last season and made the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.

 “[We] got a real good taste of what playoff hockey is like, the ups and downs,” New Jersey coach Lindy Ruff said. “Losing the first couple games in both series hurt us. You know you’d like to take that as a lesson going forward.”

“I think we let a couple of the games slip away from us, and we did the same thing in the Rangers series but found a way to battle back,” said forward Jack Hughes, who played through an upper-body injury he sustained in Game 4. “We got away from our game in certain periods (against Carolina), and it just slipped away from us and next thing you knew we dug ourselves a hole. So, we had a couple good efforts in this series, but just not good enough.”

Overall, there are few reasons to be upset about the Devils. The team won a franchise best 52 games. Their young stars flourished. Jack Hughes set the franchise record in points. Nico Heishier set career highs in nearly every major statistic and emerged into a terrific two-way player. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton set the franchise record for points by a defenseman. Dawson Mercer continued to develop into a terrific, young, speedy forward. Jesper Bratt had a career season. Defenesmen Luke Hughes, who is referred to by many as the team’s defenseman of the future, had one goal and three assists in five regular season and playoff games. Hughes is a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy (most gentleman player/best sportsmanship), Heishier is a finalist for the Selke (best two-way forward) and Lindy Ruff is a finalist for the Jack Adams (best coach). There are a ton of young prospects on the team and in the organization, including Alexander Holtz and Simon Nemec. Most of the players on this team are in their early twenties and their window is just starting to crack open. Yes their goaltending was atrocious, but general manager Tom Fitzgerald will address that in the offseason. They quickly picked up playoff experience. It was a fantastic year for the Devils and there is no reason to be upset or sad about the season and their loss to Carolina.

Carolina will be advancing to the conference finals for the first time since 2019, when they lost to the Boston Bruins. They will have home ice advantage against either the Toronto Maple Leafs or Florida Panthers. Game five of that series is Friday. Florida leads the series 3-1 and can advance with a win. Carolina has played Toronto once in the playoffs in 2002 and they have never played Florida.