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Canes Anxious to Drop Puck on 2019-20 Season

Expectations remain high following deep playoff run

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes /

Temperatures in Raleigh on Thursday will push triple digits, unseasonably (and, honestly, uncomfortably) hot for the third of October.

Inside PNC Arena, though, is a seasonable chill. A clean, frozen sheet of ice awaits, imagery almost annoyingly metaphoric for a regular season set to begin anew for the Carolina Hurricanes.

"Excited to get going, get in the mix and play some games," said Jordan Staal, three days after being named captain of the team. "You can feel the atmosphere and excitement. I'm excited about our fans and our team, doing it together and getting some wins."

The success of the 2018-19 Hurricanes is well-documented. Led by captain Justin Williams and first-year head coach Rod Brind'Amour, the Canes won 46 games and snapped a decade-long playoff drought. After unseating the defending Stanley Cup champions in double overtime in a thrilling seven-game First Round series, the Canes swept the upstart New York Islanders in a magical run to the Eastern Conference Final.

But that was last season.

Remember the imagery of that clean, frozen sheet of ice? All the shavings and scrapes and ruts that accumulated last season have been smoothed away.

A fresh start. A clean slate. A new beginning guided by the successes of the immediate past.

"It starts fresh," Brind'Amour said. "That's the mental approach we have to have. We have to take it one game at a time like we have, but what's done is done. We've got to move on."

It's impossible, though, to properly frame this season without at least considering the last. Internally, Brind'Amour raised the bar of expectations in his first season. Qualifying for the playoffs wasn't the goal, but rather a step along the journey to winning the Stanley Cup. External expectations were perhaps less lofty.

Now, following a deep playoff run, expectations exist even outside of the room. There is buy-in from a national perspective and a palpable hope and belief amongst fans, both new and longtime alike.

The end goal remains the same.

"Our expectation is to win the Cup. It's what every team wants to do," Staal said. "We've got to take it one day at a time, obviously, the same old clichés, but our expectation is to win it all. We're going to do everything we can to get there."

There's good reason to believe, too.

On paper, the Hurricanes' 2019-20 Opening Night roster is arguably better than the lineup from the team's Game 4 loss to Boston in the Eastern Conference Final just about five months ago.

Buoyed by summer acquisitions Erik Haula and Ryan Dzingel - Haula scored 29 goals in 2017-18, and Dzingel has crossed the 20-goal plateau in each of the last two seasons - the Canes figure to be more offensively threatening this season. The team's defense remains just as stout; the additions of Jake Gardiner and Joel Edmundson bring a yin and yang dynamic to the blue line, with Gardiner being a puck-moving, power-play specialist and Edmundson providing a stay-at-home, physical presence.

Petr Mrazek, who sparkled down the stretch with 11 wins in his last 13 starts, returns as the Canes' starting goaltender. Veteran James Reimer fills out the team's netminding duo with solid, reliable depth in Alex Nedeljkovic and Anton Forsberg percolating down the road in Charlotte.

"Every year is a new challenge," Staal said. "Throughout an 82-game season, there are going to be some ups and downs. That's what you always hear, and it's true. It's how we react in those ups and downs that's going to help us get to where we want to be."

"I'm excited. The games count for real. Now, every detail matters, and it has a consequence," Brind'Amour said. "It's exciting to see what we're about. Getting to play for real in front of our fans tomorrow night is always exciting."

On the eve of a new hockey season, enthusiasm is rampant. Butterflies flutter about, nerves begin to rachet up. After a short offseason, it's almost time to do it all over again.

For the Hurricanes, the 2019-20 campaign is a chance to build on the foundation laid a season ago, a chance to lend credence to the belief that this is, in fact, just the beginning of something special.

"We've practiced enough, we've talked enough, we've shown enough video and everything else," Brind'Amour said. "Guys just want to go play."

Take warning. Game on.

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