RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes needed a game-winning goal in Game 4 of their first-round series with New Jersey, and Jussi Jokinen, a player they picked up in a minor trade from Tampa Bay in early February, buried one with 0.2 left on the clock.
With their season on the line in Game 7 against the Devils, Jokinen did it again — this time tying the score with 1:20 left and setting the stage for Eric Staal’s game-winner.
With a Forrest Gump-like knack for being in the right place at the right time, Jokinen hogged the spotlight again tonight with the clinching goal in overtime of the Hurricanes’ 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins at RBC Center in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the teams. The Hurricanes now lead the series 2-1.
“Obviously, it’s been great, the things I’ve been through this year,” said Jokinen, who was waived before he was traded by the lowly Lightning, battled a sore knee and had to deal with the death of his father this season. “And three months ago I was on waivers and nobody was going to pick me up. There were some great veteran players in Tampa Bay. I’ve got to give credit to Mark Recchi, Jeff Halpern, Gary Roberts, all those guys that said keep your head up, you’re a good player, somebody’s going to give you a chance to be a good hockey player again.”
What’s that? Crediting Recchi, the Bruins’ key deadline-day acquisition? Yes, Jokinen and Recchi were linemates in Tampa Bay and the Finland native leaned on the future Hall-of Famer.
“He’s a good hockey player. Carolina stole him. I knew he had a little bit of an achy knee. He was playing with it before he left. He’s playing a big role for them,” said Recchi after the loss. “He’s scored some big goals for them. I knew he had it in him and he knew he had it in him. It’s unfortunate he’s doing it against us.”
Jokinen talked about the confidence the Hurricanes have shown in him as being a big key for his turnaround. But Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice was quick to point the credit straight at the player.
“He’s a real good player and he’s very, very smart. And after that, I don’t know what happens to a player,” Maurice said. “I think if you commit like he did — he had success on a penalty-shot goal early — so that binds you. I think having (Tuomo) Ruutu and (Joni) Pitkanen (other Finns) here makes a big difference because he’s got a built-in support group. And I think confidence is so difficult. I don’t know that a coach has ever given a player confidence. … He built his game and when we look back at making the playoffs, when Matt Cullen went down, we were in trouble if he didn’t come in and do what he did.”
They’d be in trouble in the playoffs without Jokinen. Instead the Hurricanes are flying high.