On an exceptionally warm Saturday night in Raleigh, NC, hockey fans from both near and far descended upon the RBC center to have some fun and to watch Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Making the 4+ hour trip down from northern Virginia, I was pleased to see the tailgate parties in full swing when I arrived 3-hours ahead of the puck drop. The air was filled with the smell of brats, burgers and beer, as a live band played outside of the Arena entrance. It was definitely a party atmosphere, and the overwhelmingly hospitable locals welcomed the hoards of Penguins fans who opted to spend their holiday weekend supporting their team’s quest for the Stanley Cup. It was the perfect prelude to a pivotal game. For the Hurricanes…..a “must win” and a chance to climb back into the series. For the Penguins…..the opportunity to put the Canes in a seemingly unrecoverable hole.
Once inside the Arena, the excitement was palpable. A sea of red enveloped the majority of the Arena as the Canes’ faithful showed their colors in support of the home team and twirled complimentary white towels in the air. Amidst the steady roar of the crowd and the undeniable sound of cowbells, you could occassionally hear “Let’s Go Canes” chants interspersed with an equally enthusiastic and clearly audible “Let’s Go Pens” retort. While certainly the minority, large throngs of Penguins fans were in attendance and wanted to be heard and seen. Many showed up with homemade signs in tow and Penguins paraphernalia clutched in their hands to show their support for the team. Of course, there were many obligatory “Let’s Go Pens!” signs. Others were more original, like the sign that read “Hurricane ‘Geno!”. Another claimed “Welcome to Evgeni-Stan!”, an incredibly appropriate and humorous welcome given his absolute domination of the Hurricanes in this series. My favorite sign, however, was clutched in the hands of a proud young boy that bore the logo of The Weather Channel, and read “Forecast: Hurricane Season Over!!” That sentiment, almost poetic, seemed more prophetic by games’ end after the Penguins once again dominated the beleaguered Canes into a 6-2 submission. Indeed, the Canes’ season is perilously close to being over.