If and when the New York Rangers hold their next alumni game, invites will have to be sent to more than a fourth of the Carolina Hurricanes’ current roster.
Tony DeAngelo, Brady Skjei, Jesper Fast, Brendan Smith, Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta … all were with the Rangers during their NHL careers, some longer than others.
Interestingly, the last time the Canes and Rangers faced off in the postseason, in 2020, only Skjei was with the Canes. And he promptly knocked Fast, the Rangers’ most popular player, out of the series with a crunching hit along the boards in the first minute of play.
It will be different this time. The teams are better and the stakes higher. The winner of their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series will advance to the Eastern Conference finals. That’s enough incentive.
“Emotion is usually not an issue at this time of year,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Monday.
What’s past is past. It’s all about getting this Hurricanes team past a Rangers team that happens to be standing in the way.
The Boston Bruins were standing in the way in the opening round – the Canes’ old playoff nemesis. The Bruins are no longer an issue for Carolina after the Game 7 win on Saturday.
Now, it’s the Rangers that are the new challenge. Game 1 is Wednesday at PNC Arena.
“Everybody presents challenges, almost similarly,” Brind’Amour said after a Monday practice. “The high-end talent that was there with Boston is obviously there with New York.”
As for the Canes, Brind’Amour said: “Just play our game, play to the best of our abilities – that’s the goal.”
The Canes and Rangers took different paths to the second round, although both needed seven games to get there.
The Canes won the first two games against the Bruins at PNC Arena and never trailed in their series, winning four times at home. With Max Domi as an unexpected hero in Game 7 with two goals and an assist, Carolina took a 3-2 win.
“We knew we were going to have our hands full with this team,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said Saturday. “They’ve been great all year long. Very well-coached, very well disciplined in their system. They have a lot of depth.
“They play better at home. They get the matchups they want. That’s playoff hockey. That’s what you play for all year, that home ice advantage. When you’re good at home it matters.”
The Rangers, in contrast, fell behind 3-1 in their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, then won three straight including a win in Pittsburgh in Game 6. They tied the score late in regulation in Game 7, then won in overtime on Artemi Panarin’s goal.
“It’s a resilient team that found a lot of ways to come back,” DeAngelo said of the Rangers.
DeAngelo was with the Rangers in 2020, when the pandemic brought the NHL regular season to a screeching halt in March — not long after the Rangers had dealt Skjei to Carolina at the trade deadline. The league and players later agreed to the “Return to Play” format for postseason play, and an expanded field that allowed the Rangers in.
Not for long. In a best-of-five preliminary round in the Toronto bubble, the Canes won three in a row against New York and that was that.
This season, the Canes held off the Rangers to win the Metropolitan Division title, twice beating New York at Madison Square Garden in the final nine games of the regular season. The Canes finished with 116 points, a franchise record, and the Rangers 110.
Brind’Amour is one of those who believes the first round of the playoffs often is the toughest to win. The adrenaline rush of the playoffs fuels a new intensity level that is translated into some very physical play on the ice – think the Canes’ Andrei Svechnikov leveling the Bruins’ Hampus Lindholm.
“Everyone’s playing lights out,” Brind’Amour said Monday. “Everybody’s into it and then as it goes along it’s just different things that are hard. It’s hard to stay emotionally engaged for two months. It’s hard for the fans to stay emotionally engaged.
“Everything about it gets harder and harder. The team that can stay with it obviously is the team that generally comes out on top.”
Of note ...
Goalie Frederik Andersen has not played since April 16 because of a lower-body injury and Brind’Amour was asked Monday if he expected him back during the playoffs. “I would hope so, especially if we can move on. But until he gets out there with us ...” Andersen was the only player missing during Monday’s practice at Invisalign Arena.