Hurricanes not surprised to be in finals

AP , RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA

Sun, Jun 04, 2006 - Page 22

Four years ago, the Carolina Hurricanes surprised just about everyone by reaching the Stanley Cup finals.

To listen to Rod Brind'Amour, that included themselves.

"Looking back, we didn't really believe we could be there," he said.

Now the Hurricanes are back as the favored team with home-ice advantage against the Edmonton Oilers. And after spending a season hovering near the top of the NHL standings, they're hardly satisfied with just getting to the finals.

"I'm not sure people expected us to be here and I know we did," Brind'Amour said on Friday, "and I know that's one of the key differences from teams past. ... I think going into the finals this time around, we don't feel like a huge underdog or anything like that. I think we have a real confident feeling about our team and all we're capable of doing."

Carolina earned its second trip to the finals by rallying to beat Buffalo 4-2 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday. It capped a series in which five of the seven games were decided by one goal, with two ending on power-play scores in overtime.

It was the final step in a tough path through the Eastern Conference, starting with a six-game series against Montreal in which the Canadiens won the first two games in Raleigh. Then came a five-game series win against New Jersey, which had won 15 straight entering the series.

At first glance, the Hurricanes -- seeded No. 2 in the East -- would seem to be a heavy favorite against the Oilers, who were the No. 8 seed in the West before beating Detroit, San Jose and Anaheim. But at this point, the Hurricanes aren't going to underestimate anybody.

"It doesn't matter if it's a 1 seed or an 8 seed," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. "I think if you get down this far in the playoffs, you've got to be playing well."

Now the franchise has another chance at the Cup after falling short against the favored Detroit Red Wings in 2002. They won the series opener on Ron Francis' overtime goal on the road, but lost the next four games.

The next two seasons weren't kind to the Hurricanes. They failed to build on the momentum from the first run to the finals, missing the playoffs for the next two seasons before the lockout.