Cary, NC — It started with a replay of the amazing game in Toronto where EBUG (Emergency Back-Up Goalie) David Ayres made NHL history by coming in for injuries to both regular goalies then going on to get credit for the win.
The season rewind ended with a replay of one of the last games the Canes played before the shutdown — a come from behind against the Penguins. So, yes, the Canes went undefeated in all games shown every Monday and Wednesday night since the pause of the season. Ok, so did every other NHL team as the NHL made an excellent effort to keep fans somewhat engaged during the pandemic.
Phase 3 of the return of hockey ended this past Saturday when all teams were required to stop practices. This phase consisted of 2 weeks of what some said was similar to preseason training but the coaches were quick to point out this was better. These practices only had players getting ready for a run for the Cup, not trying to make the team.
When the NHL shut down on March 12, the Canes were pretty banged up. Dougie Hamilton had a broken leg, Brett Pesce had shoulder surgery, undisclosed injuries to James Reimer, Ryan Dzingle, Jordan Martinook and deadline acquired Sami Vanaten still on the IR.
Now, 4 months later, all but Pesce are healed however Hamilton left practice in some discomfort last Thursday and hasn’t skated since. Coach Rod Brind’Amour has been extremely pleased by what he’s seen over the last 2 weeks, and yes, has some concern over Hamilton but being the positive thinker he is, believes he’ll be ready.
The NHL has made a strict rule that if a player has any injury or illness, only the words ‘unfit to play’ can be used. The NHL is having teams live in a bubble which is to say everything is restricted to the hotel, one outside restaurant and the arena.
On Monday, Major League Baseball had a huge hiccup when the Marlins had a dozen or so personnel test positive for COVID, causing the postponement of games for 4 teams. That’s because MLB is having games played at ballparks (except Toronto… thank the NHL for that) so travel kick COVID exposure up to an exponential factor.
The NHL, like the NBA, is making every move with safety and limiting COVID exposure is the number one concern. With all the measures they’ve taken, if they make it through the finals, it will be a huge accomplishment that beat all odds.
Let the Games Begin (Again)
The Canes traveled to Toronto Sunday with a great send-off by the Caniacs. With fans standing by their cars parked along the outer drive around the PNC Arena, the team was on a bus with Jordan Martinook and Don Waddell follow in the back of a pickup with Marty sounding the period starting siren every so often. The Canes have one warm-up game against Washington on Wednesday at 4 PM.
Their quest for the Cup starts against the Rangers on Saturday, August 1 at noon. All games are preceded by Hurricanes Live 30 minutes before each start time. The Rangers swept the 4 games they played against the Canes this season but no Canes player or coach, nor any Ranger player or coach, gives that any credence.
All teams are as strong as they’ve ever been in to start a postseason. The “qualifying” round and first two rounds of the playoffs are best-of-5 game series. The conference and Stanley Cup finals are best-of-7. Whoever wins this Stanley Cup, will have totally earned it as it will be a test of survival.
Brind’Amour Says Canes Are Ready
Hamilton started the practices in better shape than most everyone else. With being injured, he was allowed to officially skate during the shutdown. Until he gets back on the ice we’ll never know what’s bothering him now. All other players are good to go with several looking very sharp.
To a player and coach, all have said sophomore phenom Andrei Svechnikov looked exceptional. This is one of the most talented players the Canes have ever had. Sebastian Aho is another excellent player and these 2 will be cornerstones for some great years to come.
The defense is anchored by Hamilton and the very steady Jaccob Slavin who is getting some serious accolades by some NHL analysts. The Canes will have to make offseason decisions on defense as they have 8 NHL caliber D-men with a couple of contracts expiring on October 31.
Upfront, the Canes look good and found the back of the net more often on a per-game basis this year than in probably the last 10 years. Goalkeeping is better than average but at this point is the weak link of the team, if forced to find a weak link.
Both Mrazek and Reimer had excellent seasons, best each has had in years but questions about sustainability always crop up. The Canes have a couple of good goalies with the Checkers. So again, tough questions for the managers and coaches. Below is the schedule of the first round against the Rangers. Go Canes!
Wednesday, July 29 vs. Washington at 4 PM (Warm-Up game)
Qualifying round vs. NY Rangers (Best-of-5)
Game 1: Saturday, August 1 at 12 PM
Game 2: Monday August 3 at 12 PM
Game 3: Tuesday, August 4 at 8 PM
Game 4: Thursday, August 6 — TBD
Game 5: Saturday, August 8 — TBD