BOSTON — Tomorrow night, the Carolina Hurricanes will play their 95th game since the start of the regular season. If the Eastern Conference Final goes to six games, the Hurricanes will hit the century mark for the first time since 2009, when they played exactly 100. Only once before, in 2006, did the franchise ever hit that mark, totaling 107 games on their way to the Stanley Cup.
That doesn’t include training camp or preseason games, and for a team that is in large part making its first-ever playoff journey, it’s entirely understandable if the Hurricanes would be fatigued at this point, eight months after their season began. After all, playing nearly a hundred games puts an awful lot of mileage on a player’s odometer, and when the final ones are also the most physically taxing, it becomes even more of a grind.
But you wouldn’t know it by talking to the players.
“It’s fine,” says Justin Faulk. “I don’t think many guys mind. It’s not hard to stay focused. There’s a lot on the line, and that makes it easy.”
“Your focus is on winning,” says Warren Foegele. “It’s not every day you get a chance to get as far as we do.”
No one would expect the players to say that they’re tired; after all, the playoffs, and a shot at the crown, are why players play the game in the first place. But human nature also plays a role, and fatigue can lead to mistakes which, at this point of the journey, can be the difference between a team’s season ending and continuing.
Sebastian Aho, though, offered a different take. While he and Faulk are among the Hurricanes’ first-time playoff participants, they, along with the likes of Nino Niederreiter and Petr Mrazek, are veterans of the IIHF World Championships, which run coincident with the later rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs and began Friday. The Worlds may not have the same intensity as the NHL playoffs, but they’re still plenty competitive.
Aho says that his experience overseas has helped him prepare for the grind of the playoffs on this side of the Atlantic.
“I’ve played a hundred-plus games the past three years,” says Aho, a mainstay on the Finnish national team since his teenage years. “That’s one reason the World Championships are good. You’re supposed to play hockey at this time of the year. So it’s nothing new for me.”
It’s a byproduct of the Hurricanes’ absences from the playoffs that some of their players have been afforded the opportunity to extend their seasons elsewhere, and to be fair no one would trade a date in the conference final for a trip to Bratislava for this season’s World Championships. But it does show that experience in playing hockey in mid-May, in any form, can pay dividends when crunch time hits.
The Hurricanes will look to rely on that type of muscle memory to stay sharp. If they’re to come back and down the Boston Bruins to claim the Prince of Wales Trophy, they will need it, and while they largely haven’t been here before, clearly it isn’t totally unmapped territory for many of the players in the locker room.
Saturday’s Practice Notes
- Nothing different on the lines from what we’ve been used to, with the exception of Jordan Martinook (lower body) not practicing. With him out, the fourth line was Micheal Ferland, Greg McKegg and Patrick Brown. The other lines and pairings were unchanged, and Petr Mrazek was back in the starter’s net.
- Saku Maenalanen was still in yellow, and Brind’Amour said that he’s still a ways away from being able to get anything on his shot after his hand injury. He’s probably another week, at least, from returning to game action.
- Brett Pesce on the penalty kill: “We need to do a better job of trying to get the momentum back after penalties. If we let one up, we can’t let them gain momentum. They have so much skill, they’re one of the best power play teams in the league. We’ve got to do a better job of staying aggressive, not letting them make plays. We’ll be alright. I don’t think it was bad. We just had a few unlucky breaks. It was trending in the right direction.”
- Brind’Amour echoed that, and he seemed to back off on the criticism he had immediately after the game on Thursday. “When you look at the score, you’re like ‘wow, that was not good.’ There’s a large chunk of that game that was really positive for us. Really, a small fraction that wasn’t very good.”
- A few more thoughts on the PK from Jordan Staal: “Taking that many [penalties], in general, especially in a row is hard on a PK unit. Personally I know when you start taking a couple in a row, it can wear a PK unit down and they did a good job of taking advantage of that. They move the puck really quick. You don’t see it sitting on a guy’s stick for very long. They do all the things right for a good power play, and we need to do all the things right to shut them down.”
- No skate for the Canes tomorrow because of the matinee start. We’ll be here for it beginning at 3:00, with faceoff coming at 3:20.