Joe Corvo took a big shot in overtime of Game 3 on Sunday, moments before the Devils scored the winner to in a 3-2 victory to take a 2-1 lead in the series, and you don’t have to know Corvo that well to know how badly he wanted that shot to go in.
His blunder in the waning seconds of the first period put the Canes down a goal, and he took a beating in search of redemption, butt-ended in the face by Bobby Holik (drawing a penalty) and slashed on the back of the left knee by Colin White late in the third period (when the officials weren’t looking).
The Canes were prepared to go into the first intermission feeling pretty good about a 1-1 score. They probably hadn’t played their best hockey, killed off six minutes in penalties and answered an early New Jersey goal with one of their own 31 seconds later from Ryan Bayda. With 10 seconds to go in the first, that all changed.
Tim Gleason left the puck for Corvo behind the net, who was immediately pressured by Brendan Shanahan. Instead of putting the puck in the corner or some other safe location, Corvo sent it right out in front, onto Gionta’s stick.
Gionta danced around Ray Whitney and beat a helpless Cam Ward with 8.6 seconds to go in the period. In both timing and circumstance, the momentum swung wildly.
“Obviously, you never want to give up a goal late in the period, but we talked about what you just said, we killed a lot of penalties and it went the way it should have went, probably,” Hurricanes captain Rod Brind’Amour said. “We’ve come back all year, and we did come back. That goal wasn’t the difference.”
Chad LaRose scored in the second period to tie the score, and it would stay that way until overtime, Corvo’s turnover long forgotten.
This is, of course, what’s so great about playoff hockey. There’s always another regular-season game. In the playoffs, there isn’t always another chance. Everything is magnified, good and bad, and Corvo ended up on the wrong end of that spectrum Sunday after assisting on Tim Gleason’s overtime winner in Game 2. Gionta, meanwhile, ended up a hero.
“It’s nice when you turn around and it’s right on your stick in the slot,” Gionta said. “I’ll take those.”
There was still a lot of hockey to be played after that point — more than expected, as it turned out — but little moments like that can turn a playoff game or even a series, particularly between two teams so clearly so closely matched.
Still, everything is tempered by the result, and while wins cleanse all sins, losses chisel them into stone.
There isn’t a long list of Hurricanes playoff “oops” moments, at least not that come immediately to mind. Martin Gelinas missing an open net in overtime of Game 5 in 1999. Doug Weight's bad penalty in overtime of Game 6 of the Buffalo series in ‘06. Cory Stillman's turnover on the overtime power play in Game 5 of the 2006 finals that turned a potential Cup celebration into a long slog back to Edmonton. Martin Gerber’s mysterious illness.
All of them, fittingly enough, redeemed themselves — Gelinas with the goal to win the conference finals in 2002, Weight in Game 7 against the Sabres, Gerber in his out-of-nowhere shutout in Game 4 of that series, Stillman with an assist on the Cup-winning goal.
As it turned out, Corvo didn't make either list Sunday, but that overtime goal would have been all the more sweet for him had it gone in.