Williams played down the importance of the phone call.
“Sometimes, you just need a kick in the pants, say: `Go get it. You can do it. Challenge yourself. I believe in you. I think you can do it,’ ” he said. “Life is all about opportunities, seizing opportunities for yourself. He wanted the chance, and he’s done a fabulous job.”
The Hurricanes scuffled for victories in Brind’Amour’s first three months as coach. The low point probably came Dec. 29, when Carolina went 0 for 5 on the power play and were beaten by the Devils rookie Mackenzie Blackwood, 2-0.
It was the Hurricanes’ fourth loss in five games and sank their record to 15-17-5 — 13th in the 16-team Eastern Conference, 10 points out of a playoff berth. Brind’Amour made a soft plea in interviews for his top-line players to score more, but he stuck with his master plan.
“The message was the same as it was before,” said Williams, a three-time Cup winner. “We’d gotten a lot of kicks in the teeth, it felt like. We’d played a lot of good games and had not come up with any points. That was frustrating to keep the same message. But he kept the same message. We certainly didn’t look at the standings for a couple weeks. Play a few games, look at it, play a few more, look at it, see where we ended up.”
They beat the Flyers in their next game to begin a five-game winning streak. From Jan. 1 to the end of the regular season, Carolina had 30 victories and 62 points, more than any N.H.L. team except the Tampa Bay Lightning, which finished with the league’s best record.
Carolina center Jordan Staal, who helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Cup in 2009, said the Hurricanes “ created a playoff-type atmosphere early.”
“We knew that if we’d slip in a few games here and there, you start sliding down the string, and it’s not easy to make up at the end of the year,” he added. “We’ve been in that situation a long time in Carolina. We knew we’d have to string together some wins. Started playoffs in January, and the boys took it from there.”