'We're just excited to be back': Hurricanes' LaRose
Three years doesn't sound like a long time, but in hockey terms it can seem like a lifetime.
Backed by rookie goalie Cam Ward and veteran forward Rod Brind'Amour, the Carolina Hurricanes shocked pundits — and broke the hearts of long-suffering Canadian hockey fans — when they beat the Edmonton Oilers in seven games in the 2006 Stanley Cup finals.
Carolina couldn't build on that success, though, as it failed to make the playoffs in each of the following two seasons.
But after finishing second in the Southwest Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference in the 2008-09 regular season, the Hurricanes are back in the playoffs and looking forward to making up for lost time.
"Everyone is in really good spirits and after missing a couple of years here it's very exciting to be back [in the playoffs]," Carolina forward Chad LaRose told Hockey Night in Canada Radio.
LaRose was a member of the Hurricanes' Cup-winning team — he tallied one assist in 10 playoff games — as was fellow forward Erik Cole, who was traded to Edmonton in 2008 before being dealt back to Carolina last month.
Cole scored two goals and collected 15 points in the final 17 games of the season, playing a pivotal role in helping the Hurricanes clinch their first playoff berth in three years.
"It didn't even seem like he was gone. It's great to have a guy like that back, he's so powerful and such a great skater. It obviously improved our team," LaRose explained.
As for LaRose, the Michigan native is coming off a solid campaign in which he set career highs in goals (19) and points (31).
LaRose credits his improvement with being able to play alongside veterans such as Brind'Amour.
"I just try to improve every day. I have so many great players around me to watch and learn from since I've been in the league. I had such a great experience of soaking it all in and watching these guys and trying to learn from them," LaRose explained.
And speaking of veteran players, Carolina's opponent in the first round of the playoffs, the New Jersey Devils, are loaded with players who have been in the league a long time, foremost among them goalie Martin Brodeur.
"They're a very good team, I think they are very fast up front," LaRose said. "They do have a good group of guys, both young and old, and you can't say enough about [forward Zach] Parise. He does it all.
"They shut down the middle of the ice, and you have to beat Brodeur and get inside their blue-line, which is tough."