Calvin de Haan was at a loss for words about what comes next.
Minutes after the Carolina Hurricanes' shocking 4-3 double-overtime victory in Game 7 to move on to the second round, he wasn't yet ready to turn his attention to facing the New York Islanders. But that turnaround comes quick with Game 1 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Friday night to start an improbable series between two teams few expected to make the playoffs, let alone each win a series to play for a spot in the Eastern Conference final.
"They had a great season," said de Haan, who played the past five seasons with the Islanders before joining the Hurricanes. "A lot of personnel changes and they brought some new guys in. They finished where they did for a reason and their goaltending's been rock solid this year. That's probably been their biggest asset. They played well structurally, and they seem to be opportunistic a little more than when I played there."
The opportunity is there now for the Hurricanes and Islanders. Carolina fought back from a series deficit and a two-goal hole in Game 7 to eliminate the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals long after New York swept the 2016 and 2017 champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Carolina captain Justin Williams believes it's "wide open" for the Hurricanes and every team, which is especially true after all four wild-card teams moved on and all four division winners were knocked out in the first round for the first time in NHL history. Williams assisted on Brock McGinn's double OT goal to add to his NHL record Game 7 point total that reached 15, but the former Capitals winger and three-time Cup champion doesn't want this to be about him.
"This is not my story," Williams said. "This is the Hurricanes' story, and I'm proud of every single one of our guys. We're not done. We won a series."
The Hurricanes' journey included the burden of the league's longest playoff drought at a decade, Williams leading postgame "Storm Surge" celebrations after home victories and a climb just to make the postseason. For a group that was called a "Bunch of Jerks" by Canadian pundit Don Cherry for the creative celebrations that upset hockey's old guard, the celebration after McGinn scored 11:05 into the second overtime topped it all.
"You just want to hug each other," McGinn said. "I don't think anything goes through your mind. I think you're just too excited. We've battled so long the last couple months it felt like it's been playoff hockey. For this to go to Game 7 in double overtime, it's a pretty awesome feeling in this dressing room to come out on top."
The Hurricanes went 3-0 at home in the first round and showed even more by beating the champions in their house in Game 7. They'll have to again cede home-ice advantage in the second round against former Capitals coach Barry Trotz and the structured, suffocating Islanders who allowed the fewest goals in the league this season.
"We're expecting the same type of battle," McGinn said. "I think it's going to be tight checking. They're very defensive, don't give you too much time and space. We've just got to continue to play our style of game. We've got to be a forechecking team and just work them and just keep playing our style."
That style, when executed correctly, made the playoff-seasoned Capitals look dazed and confused. Carolina didn't ride a hot goaltender through the series or fluke its way into anything, and a hard-earned victory has players' confidence rising about how much more they can accomplish.
"You just keep pushing forward," Williams said. "You see how good you can be. You never know until you go out there and you give it a go. We put everything we had into it this year and we still have more to give."