It took longer than expected but the National Hockey League on Thursday finally announced a full schedule for the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Carolina Hurricanes and Nashville Predators will play Game 1 of their best-of-seven opening-round series Monday at PNC Arena, and Game 2 is set for Wednesday. Both games have an 8 p.m. starting time.
The series then shifts to Nashville, Tennessee. Game 3 is set for Friday (May 21) at 7 p.m. and Game 4 will be played Sunday (May 23) at Bridgestone Arena.
If necessary, Game 5 will be at PNC Arena on May 25 and Game 6 in Nashville on May 27. If a seventh game is needed, it will be at PNC Arena on Saturday, May 29.
The Canes closed out the regular season Monday at Nashville. Then began the wait for the NHL to set up the schedule as the North Division of Canadian teams finished uo their games.
Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said the wait would not adversely affect the team’s playoff preparations. Nor, he said, has the team’s expectations changed as they enter the playoffs for a third straight season.
“It’s no different for me than our first year. Our goal was to win,” he said Wednesday. “I know people made a big deal because we hadn’t done anything in forever, but we were disappointed that we didn’t win. The expectation here is to win. We’ve got a long road ahead of us. We’ve got a huge challenge but that’s the expectation.
“It has been a long, hard journey to get to this stage. We didn’t start the season saying we wanted to make the playoffs, but you had to make the playoffs to have a chance to win the whole thing. We’re here, now everybody that’s left is here and we’re starting over. “
The Canes, the Central Division champions, also could start over with a full roster, Brind’Amour said. Forwards Brock McGinn and Cedric Paquette have been out of the lineup because of injuries, McGinn missing the last 19 games of the regular seasn with an upper-body issue.
Monday’s game will mark the first Stanley Cup playoff game at PNC Arena in almost two years. On May 18, 2019, the Canes were beaten 4-0 by the Boston Bruins in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, a sour end to what had been a special season.
The coming of the pandemic suspended the 2019-20 season in March and left the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs in jeopardy, with the possibility of not awarding a Cup. But the league and players agreed on a 24-team postseason format and the games were played in the bubble cities of Toronto and Edmonton, with no fans allowed in the arenas.
With COVID-19 restrictions differing in each state, the Canes will be limited to about 6,000 fans for their home playoff games. A request made by the team to the state to increase the allowed capacity before June 1 but it was denied, team president and general manager Don Waddell said.
The Predators might have as many as 14,000 fans at their games at Bridgestone Arena, which concerns Brind’Amour.
“That’s a big advantage, there’s no doubt about it,” Brind’Amour said. “Obviously that’s out of our hands. ... It would be nice if we could definitely do that. Our fans have been great. They might have to put a little extra effort in if they don’t have that many people in there.”
The Canes were 6-2-0 against the Predators during the regular season, winning the first six games.