First it was Calvin de Haan, going down with a shoulder injury after an awkward fall from a Jake Guentzel check that lingered into the postseason. Then, Andrei Svechnikov and Micheal Ferland both joined the ranks of the walking wounded in Game 3 of the first round, Svechnikov from the infamous fight with Alex Ovechkin and Ferland with an upper body injury from a check along the boards. Next, Jordan Martinook joined the fray with a lower-body injury that he has tried to play through, to varying degrees of success.
On Sunday in the Hurricanes’ Game 2 comeback win over the New York Islanders, things went from bad to much, much worse. Trevor van Riemsdyk was the first to be added to the list, with what looked like a shoulder injury on the first shift of the game that he won’t be returning from anytime soon, according to coach Rod Brind’Amour. Then, midway through the second period, Petr Mrazek pulled up with what looked like a groin injury, forcing the Hurricanes into their first in-game goaltender swap of the season and Curtis McElhinney to enter the game cold.
And, incredibly, they still weren’t done. Saku Maenalanen left the game in the third period with an upper-body injury that, according to the News and Observer’s Luke DeCock, is a hand issue that will require surgery. By the end of the game, there was enough empty space on the Hurricanes’ bench to give the remaining players La-Z-Boys.
For every team, the playoff mantra is “next man up”. You can be forgiven if the Hurricanes are wondering at this point how many more next men they’re going to need. When you’re in serious danger of needing the emergency backup goaltender in a playoff game - take a bow, Todd Scarola - you know that the script has reached the point of farce.
“You’re asking a lot of guys that are out of their comfort zone,” said Brind’Amour after the game. “But that’s playoffs. That’s part of it. It is a war of attrition a lot of times in the playoffs. You’ve just got to figure it out.”
With the exception of the concussions suffered by Ferland and Jordan Staal, the Hurricanes had a remarkably healthy regular season, tallying 126 man-games lost to injury, sixth-fewest in the NHL. Already, in just nine playoff games, they’re at 18 and counting, and that number could increase even faster if none of Svechnikov, Ferland and Martinook return and Maenalanen and Mrazek are unable to go for Wednesday’s Game 3 in Raleigh.
Every team deals with injuries, and while it’s hamstrung the Hurricanes to a certain extent so far - Martinook’s absence in the first round Game 5 laugher stands out here - at some stage it hits a tipping point. The Hurricanes are already using Brock McGinn in top-six minutes. Sebastian Aho has played nearly 80 minutes in his last three games, two of which went to overtime.
Brind’Amour has already accommodated for the injury bug by reducing the number of practices and morning skates that the team participates in during the postseason. They’re doing what they can with what they have, and it’s to their credit that they’ve been able to somehow pull through this ridiculous stretch.
The Charlotte Checkers begin their second-round series against Hershey on Friday, and it’s probably an open question at this point whether their roster will consist more of actual AHL players or Florida Everblades fill-ins. As for the Hurricanes, they have to hope that they can keep the run going with duct tape and chewing gum, as they have the entire postseason.
The two days off between games 2 and 3 have never looked more timely, and the Hurricanes return to Raleigh with a 2-0 series lead and a waiting line to the trainer’s room that might run the length of the locker room. No team is ever truly healthy in the playoffs, but if the Hurricanes can return to some version of health, the sky might be the limit for a team that continues to fight on against the odds.