RALEIGH, N.C. - Around the NHL, nicknames are as common as gap-toothed smiles and facial hair in the playoffs. Carolina left wing Ray Whitney picked up a doozy earlier in his career that would make anyone proud: “The Wizard.”
It came from TV announcer Jeff Rimer shortly after Whitney joined the Florida Panthers in 1997.
“What he was able to do with the puck, I had never seen anything like that,” said Rimer, who now is the voice of the Columbus Blue Jackets. “He had the wizardry.”
When Whitney is at his best on the ice, the moniker certainly appears appropriate. He brilliantly set up a goal for Mark Recchi in Game 2 against New Jersey on Monday night, helping the Hurricanes rally from an early deficit in a game they eventually won in overtime.
Whitney took a pass near the point from Doug Weight, and instead of shooting, he barely had time to settle the puck before finding Recchi in close to beat goalie Martin Brodeur.
Now, Carolina leads the best-of-seven series 2-0 heading into Game 3 on Wednesday night in New Jersey.
“I would have shot it, but the defenseman was standing right in front of me,” Whitney said with a laugh. “In terms of the goal, I wasn’t sure if Brodeur was going to be in or out — I’m not that good to see that far down the road.”
During the regular season, he had 17 goals and 38 assists despite missing 19 games with groin injuries, and he sat out the first game of the playoffs with a similar ailment. He still isn’t completely healthy, but his importance to the team demands that Whitney play through the pain.
“It’s a fluke, I don’t think it’s anything more than that,” he said. “Lucky circumstances, I guess.”
His teammates aren’t so sure.
“The playoffs are what you thrive on, and Sugar Ray, you can see that he’s stepped up his game when it mattered most,” said goalie Cam Ward while invoking another of Whitney’s nicknames. “Despite the circumstances with his health all year, he’s stepped up his game. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Whitney increased that total to more than 15 minutes by the beginning of the Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Devils.
“He’s one of the shiftiest and most creative guys we have on the team,” right wing Justin Williams said. “His personality, it’s something when you bring up his name, a smile comes on your face.”
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
“For me, he’s a highly skilled player,” Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. “That’s why he was brought here.”
Whitney came, and so did the nicknames. Of course, considering the kind of camaraderie often found in the locker room, all of them aren’t so complimentary.
One is “Lord Farquaad,” the diminutive tyrant from the movie “Shrek,” and a not-so-subtle dig at Whitney’s listed height of 5-foot-10. He probably is shorter.
“I get something along those lines a whole lot more than ’The Wizard,’ when I’m in the room,” Whitney said.
Live Extra: Los Angeles' Tyler Toffoli sneaked a backhander past Antti Niemi, leveling the score after San Jose's Dan Boyle netted a power-play goal less than two minutes into the game.
PHT: Detroit scored four unanswered goals to top Chicago 4-1 on Saturday. The Western semifinals are now level at one game apiece. Game 3 is on Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Video: NHL from NBC Sports
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