For nearly seven months, Dougie Hamilton had pictured a moment like this, scoring a game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
That moment came true on Thursday, when the defenseman scored at 8:30 of the third period to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win against the Boston Bruins in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
Hamilton, who was playing in his second game since breaking his left fibula on Jan. 16, skated in to the top of the right circle and scored on a one-timer that beat Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask over his left shoulder and under the crossbar.
The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1. Game 3 is in Toronto, the Eastern hub city, on Saturday (12 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVAS).
“It obviously feels good,” Hamilton said. “It’s been a long time for me since I’ve played hockey. For seven months you’re thinking about that kind of stuff — playing the game, scoring a goal, what it feels like — and that’s kind of what fuels you when you’re in those tough moments in rehab. It feels great.”
Hamilton, who had 40 points (14 goals, 26 assists) and a plus-30 rating in 47 games this season, traveled a long road to return from his injury, one that cost him the final 21 games of the regular season and a trip to his first All-Star Game.
After missing Carolina’s best-of-5 series against the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which the Hurricanes won 3-0, Hamilton made his return against Boston and played 26:48 in a 4-3 loss in double overtime in Game 1 on Wednesday.
He followed that up by leading the Hurricanes with 24:20 of ice time on Thursday, playing a back-to-back after Game 1 was postponed on Tuesday because the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets went five overtimes in their series opener.
It wasn’t exactly optimal for his return after being off for more than half a year, but Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said he has been delighted with the way Hamilton has handled the difficult workload in his first two games.
“Impressive,” Brind’Amour said. “I think especially back-to-back and all that layoff, the rust factor you figure would be there. But he was special and obviously a huge goal tonight. But the minutes that he’s putting up there, I think that’s something we didn’t really expect. He’s obviously answered the bell on that. Pretty good performance tonight.”
It didn’t hurt that it came against his former team.
Hamilton, who was selected by the Bruins with the No. 9 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, played three seasons in Boston before being traded to the Calgary Flames on June 26, 2015. Hamilton would go on to be traded to the Hurricanes nearly three years later, on June 23, 2018.
But that wasn’t all. Hamilton had one more reason to celebrate on Thursday: Joan Hamilton.
“First of all, it’s my grandma’s birthday today, so I think that one is for her,” Hamilton said. “Other than that, obviously it’s always great to score against your old team in the playoffs in the third period. Always fun to score those.”